Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Good, but could have been great ...

The first book assignment in my Strategic Leadership and Decision Making (SLDM) elective for Air War College was "American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art of Command" by Edgar F. Puryear Jr. The level of leadership this study aims at is very high indeed - the ranks of the general officers. The kind of strategy that leaders at this level create and conceptualize, during both peace and war, involves all of the nation's forces, and applies itself through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. This book deals exclusively with the sort of character, mentorship and values that a leader at this level must possess, and it does so with a tidal wave of good examples and meaningful quotes.

The subtitle of the book, "Character is Everything: The Art of Command", defines the focus of this study in leadership. Although the leaders studied in this book are chosen from fairly narrow sections of time and from only one country (USA), those times are the greatest perils. Ike, Patton, MacArthur, and Clark are drawn from World War 2. Grant, Sherman, Lee, and Jackson are cited from the American Civil War. Extensive passages on Billy Mitchell's experience as well as that of his ardent supporters Hap Arnold and Tooey Spaatz. George Washington's contribution is discussed in detail. There is a far too small, albeit tasty, portion for more recent leaders, like Colin Powell, Schwarzkopf, Meyer, and Creech, who have had to deal with the today's hyperpolitics, scandal-centric journalism, perpetual war and a evaporating budgets.

As good as "American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art of Command" is, some important details of the leadership experience are left in rather soft focus. The rationale behind Operation Market Garden (p288, listed in other references as "disastrous"), continued support for Wedemeyer (p318-9, a similar set of "circumstantial" charges against an officer today would certainly be career ending), and clearing the Hooverville shantytown built by "Bonus Army" marchers (p264-265, brutal tactics used and the unfortunate remarks made at the press conference that immediately followed). These details could have provided the all important context that framed these actions and decisions. Character is revealed through actions inside context.

More examples could have been provided about leaders who did not read books. The book only lists one leader, the confederate Longstreet (p152-153), who did not read extensively. On the other hand, the narrative bogs down with mountains of evidence that reading books, particularly biographies and historical works, helps leaders think more broadly and learn from the timeless lessons of the past.

All things considered, "American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art of Command" is certainly worth a read. It is a very good book that could have been great if only it had spent a little more time in the hands of an editor.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Wow. You don't post anything for months and then all of a sudden you have book reviews up!