I was passed over the first time considered for promotion. I was one of two armor officers selected above the zone for colonel on the 2000 U.S. Army promotion list, and, in reflecting on that time, I thought I should write about the advice I received prior to pinning on the rank and share some lessons I learned along the way.
The popular conception of World War I centers on hellish trench warfare and all its horrors. While it is undeniable that the war was won and lost on the Western Front, the lines stretching back across the Atlantic that brought men and desperately needed supplies into the theater of operations played an essential part in Allied victory.
For modern readers, the fear Napoleon and his victories struck into the hearts of European monarchs and generals is inconceivable…Not everyone saw Napoleon as a military genius beyond human explanation, however. Scharnhorst admired his understanding of the social and political changes wrought by the French Revolution and his ability to apply these changes to warfare. Nonetheless, Scharnhorst believed Napoleon’s success harbored clues about his possible defeat.
Charles Dickens fans should note that this article is not about one of your favorite Victorian novels. Rather, it examines the case of Admiral Horatio Nelson, Baron of the Nile, and how his expectations of what his military operations might accomplish often matched the results. Secondarily, this characteristic of great expectations aligns nicely with attributes in Carl von Clausewitz’s exposition of military genius in On War. Finally, both Nelson’s approach, and Clausewitzian examination of the concept of military genius have a direct bearing on how officers command at sea.
In a small sea of books offering insights into Marine Corps leadership, this book stands apart by virtue of its focus on women. That focus, however, is most valuable for women who have no knowledge of military leadership. Those familiar with the military, particularly the Marine Corps, might find the tone annoying.
The invaluable lessons in this text only confirmed what I thought I knew about the two. What Dempsey and Brafman bring to the pages of this short, yet enduring book will help dampen the volume of the noise of the world, bring clarity to the fog of the digital battlefield, increase our trust for each other, and ultimately help us all be more inclusive leaders.
Moderns often talk of facing the future. For the ancient Greeks, the future was coming up from behind unseen. In this as in other matters, the perceptions of the ancient Greeks were more realistic and accurate than our own. Whether the near future comes holding a bouquet or a bludgeon, it is going to require adaptation and innovation from all military members in their roles as leaders, warfighters, veterans, and citizens.
To lead others one must first seek to lead themselves. Solitude creates the necessary white space and opportunity to mature as leaders. Solitude also provides an opportunity to better connect with intuition, which allows our minds to connect the dots, find patterns, and bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious. Through solitude and reflection, we can unveil our core values, strengthen our resolve, and gain perspective. Each of these are required to lead effectively.
Theodore Roosevelt, a man who held the unique distinction of being both an historian and a president, once wrote of American history, “Mightiest among the mighty dead loom the three great figures of Washington, Lincoln, and Grant.” Roosevelt’s words would come as a shock to most Americans today. Although Grant’s reputation has undergone a rehabilitation in the last two decades, he hardly ranks among great American leaders in the minds of all but a handful of historians, and the popular conception of Grant as an inept drunk still lingers.
In the wake of nearly every scandal and moral lapse in the military, we hear the same response, “This is a leadership issue.” This view is problematic as it seems to assume all ethical matters are reducible to leadership issues or these scandals are a product of the personal morality of the leader in question. Responses like these ought to push us to ask, What is the connection and overlap between ethics and leadership in the military?
What does it take for militaries to win in today’s interconnected, interdependent, and complex environment? I would argue that in contrast with the battlefield of the past, today’s environment demands much more organizational agility, the degree to which a team or company is resourceful and adept at flexing in response to both internal and external factors.
In the military, human interactions carry tactical and even strategic significance. Whether leading a team, planning with a staff, or partnering with a foreign force, so much of our success hinges on our ability to communicate, understand, learn and grow with others. Yet the messages we send to others with our actions and words are often lost in translation.
Innovation is a powerful term in today’s defense lexicon. We desire a flexible and adaptable service member, enhanced and intuitive technology, and creative and niche-capable organizations. To make this happen, many military leaders have railed against the status quo with respect to problem-solving approaches and bureaucracy. The purpose of this article is to describe what an innovative change can look like in the form of junior leader engagement, introducing our concept of the idealogue.
Dixon’s psychology may be dated and his references may be foreign, yet he has much to offer anyone who selects leaders. Dixon himself admits that “it is most difficult to find a suitable prescription for military commanders,” but despite the difficulty, someone must attempt to find one. Fortunately for them, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence is a great place to start.
Leadership has close cousins in management and supervision and at different times includes activities as diverse as communication, motivation, coaching, discipline and planning, to name but a small sample. A leader the is calm voice giving commands on a chaotic bridge, a general devising a brilliant invasion plan, a field grade officer making sure his soldiers are properly prepared for an upcoming deployment, a program manager helping to sharpen the thinking of a design engineer, or a Service Secretary persuading Congress and the public on the value of his service’s capability to the nation. Perhaps the only thing one can say about good leadership that applies universally is that to be effective, it must be tailored to fit.
Since the Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World was published in 2014, military leaders have been inundated with the idea of complexity. But how should we prepare to overcome complexity? How can leaders improve their ability to understand, visualize, and describe this environment to enable decision making? How should we adjust our planning to account for this complexity? In the past, the military has largely focused on new or improved processes and technology to account for historic lessons learned, but will this be successful in the future? There are many ways to prepare for a complex world, but improving cognition through inquisitiveness should be chief among them.
The ability to persuade others is paramount to success at every level. Effective persuasive leadership can turn ideas into approved contingency plans, doctrine, concepts, or programs of record. Convincing others of the importance of a project or plan to gain their support and effort can be the difference between success and failure.
Regardless of the criticism of Petraeus’ impact on the surge and the Army’s culture, the lessons of his actions as a change leader before and during the surge in Iraq serve as archetype for military leaders to study...Change leadership requires clear vision setting, adroit communication skills, generating energy, achieving organizational alignment, and other requisite leader competencies. This skill set applies at both the strategic general officer level and the tactical platoon leader level.