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Leadership Lessons from a U.S. General

I wanted to read a book that told me more about the recent actions of our military.  I also wanted to learn more about how a US General functions as Defense Secretary and navigates the highly charged political environment. That’s why I started to read “Call Sign Chaos” from US General Jim Mattis (co-author Bing West).

But the book was about so much more.   While this is a book that shares details of General Mattis’ career as well as an appreciation of military history, it is mostly about leadership. I highlighted more excerpts on the topic than I have on many books that profess to offer advice on how to be successful in their careers.

Mattis writes that he can sum up the leadership fundamentals he learned in the Marines in three points:

The first is competence. Be brilliant in the basics. Don’t dabble in your job; you must master it. That applies at every level as you advance. Analyze yourself.

Second, caring. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Show no favoritism. Value initiative and aggressiveness above all. It’s easier to pull the reins back than to push a timid soul forward. Consistently maintain a social and personal distance, remembering that there is a line you must not cross. But you should come as close to that line as possible—without surrendering one ounce of your authority.

Third, conviction. This is harder and deeper than physical courage. Your peers are the first to know what you will stand for and, more important, what you won’t stand for. Your troops catch on fast. State your flat-ass rules and stick to them. They shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. At the same time, leaven your professional passion with personal humility and compassion for your troops. Remember: As an officer, you need to win only one battle—for the hearts of your troops. Win their hearts and they will win the fights.

He concludes, “Leadership means reaching the souls of your troops, instilling a sense of commitment and purpose in the face of challenges so severe that they cannot be put into words. “

While you and I don’t take our troops into battle, this is wise advice for everyone who wants to be an effective leader.


Affiliate link: I receive small compensation if you purchase this book, at no cost to you.

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