- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Jerry Mitchell
Best Defense guest columnist
Here’s another book that Tom now has to read when he finds the time. It correlates nicely with the leadership attributes discussed in his book The Generals. I have a longer review of LTG Russel Honore’s book in the new issue of Joint Force Quarterly but here I want to highlight some of the points made there. All thoughts on leadership are worth studying, especially with all of the recent highly publicized leadership problems in our services and government, some of them quite close to home at NDU.
LTG Honore shares his thoughts on leadership by emphasizing three core tenets or principles:
-good leaders learn to do the routine things well
-good leaders are not afraid to act even when criticized
-good leaders are not afraid to take on the impossible
He goes on to address some compelling questions that many others have asked and expounded on: “What is the nature of leadership?”; “What are the crucial lessons learned from the study of some of our nation’s greatest leaders?”; “How do the important aspects of leadership change with the strategic and global environment?”; “How do leaders instill a philosophy and culture of ‘mission command’ in their subordinates and organizations?”; “How do they know and recognize the right problems to solve?”; How do they motivate their people?”; and, “What does education have to do with leadership in government, the military, or business?” These are not new questions. The value is in cogent answers developed with experience. From over 37 years of tough command and staff assignments, LTG Honore offers his thoughts in hopes of helping our future leaders.
Chapter 1 describes his take on the “nature of leadership.” He goes back to our nation’s beginning and uses George Washington’s ability to lead “a rag-tag army” to victory over a far superior British force. In chapter 2, he extrapolates critical leadership lessons from decisive points in our history that are just as vital today. He writes, “No great change comes without leadership and sacrifice.” Chapter 3 explores the notion that our nation transitioned through change constantly, always adapting to the new normal, and that leaders must recognize change to be successful. The general describes the key variables he sees in America’s latest new normal and expands this discussion to the global environment in chapter 4. How have “extreme population density, the incredibly fast transmission of information, the rise of terrorism, the interconnectedness of business, and the growth of the ranks of the poor” created the new normal and shaped the global environment of today and the near future? The author offers his keen insights on causes and effects and correlations.
What does this book tell military people that they haven’t already heard? Well, there is the story of a prize pig that has a leadership lesson for us as we wrestle with the dilemma of resource constraints — near-term, instant gratification versus long-term growth and development. The military is especially impacted by this dilemma. Do we invest in our young leaders by ensuring that PME and JPME are fully resourced or do we cut education for hardware? LTG Honore postulates that education is the key to the future.
Why should junior leaders read this? It is a “short course” gleaned from over two hundred years of leadership successes and failures, told from the heart of a warrior and national treasure based on his 37 years of personal experience, including the highly visible events of Hurricane Katrina as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina. You can read the latest version of the National Security Strategy or you can read this short book.
Jerry Mitchell is a retired infantry officer and former associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy. He was also an associate professor at the Joint Forces Staff College, National Defense University, where he taught joint operations planning and the homeland security/homeland defense planner’s course for 21 years.