Winning my heart and mind

Even though I like to think of myself as not a rush to judgment type of person and a recurring theme in my posts has been, “Get to know people, not about people”, which almost always comes from sources other than the people in question.”, this past week I read General Stanley McChrystal’s new book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”, beginning with some negative preconceived notions about General McChyrstal.  The Rolling Stones article, The Runaway Generalyears ago left me with a vastly different impression of him as a leader than I hold now after reading his truly fascinating and brilliant book.  He’s well on his way to winning my heart and mind and that’s no exaggeration!

I began reading his new book, expecting the usual, boring leadership prescriptions and a whole lot of detailed daring war stories to stir patriotic fervor, but instead General McChrystal offers some of the most brilliant, innovative, bold, and I might even say, radical, ideas ever put forth by an American general.  Every chapter left me rethinking some of my cherished beliefs and considering new ways of approaching old problems.  This book puts me in mind of sitting down and pondering Malcolm Gladwell’s books, where even if you don’t accept all of his conclusions, just exploring his fascinating ideas, forcing you to look at things differently, leaves you better off than when you started.

So far on the book has a 5 star rating and I’d give it 6 stars if I could.  In fact, I liked it so much, that I’m going to order his previous book, “My Share of the Task: A Memoir”, which I skipped over last year, because of opinions I formed from news reporting years ago.


Filed under American History, Foreign Policy, General Interest, Military, Politics, Terrorism

4 responses to “Winning my heart and mind

  1. Robert

    Interesting. I’ve always wondered about him and the facts behind Obama removing him. I instinctively distrust Rolling Stone as I remember them from the 1960s. If you have more insights to share it would be of interest. My yet to be read stack of books is embarrassingly long.

    • Well, I have very set notions of “good military leadership”, but General McChrystal rather than coming across as some arrogant, runaway general, the ideas presented in this book about how they tried to transform, from the typical cumbersome approval-seeking up the chain of command and all decisions permeating from on high in the chain of command, into a real network, where operators across the battlefield were included in discussions and empowered to make many decisions on the ground instantaneously, were quite original and surprising. The book crosses all sorts of fields of study from military history, management to gardening. It’s just a really fascinating read. Here’s an example:

      “In the summer of 1966, soon after my father returned from his first tour in Vietnam, my parents bought a new house. The large, early-1900s brick home gave my parents, the six kids, Noche the dog, and a constant stream of visitors room to spread out. My mother, Mary, a perpetual motion machine, used part of the yard to take up gardening. No flowers— Mom was about measurable output. She grew fruit and vegetables. Beans were aligned with military precision, tomatoes on the right flank, lettuce in reserve. Napoleon would have approved, though Taylor would have moved the compost pile (my responsibility) near the fig tree, slightly closer to the squash lines, to shave seconds off labor.

      There were challenges. The first year my mother overestimated the number of zucchini plants she needed and the family suffered through every permutation of zucchini dish except ice cream. But overall the garden was a rousing success. My contribution was spotty and occasional, but I did watch and learn.

      If the garden is well organized and adequately maintained, and the vegetables are promptly harvested when ripe, the product is pretty impressive. The gardener creates an environment in which the plants can flourish. The work done up front, and vigilant maintenance, allow the plants to grow individually, all at the same time.

      Years later as Task Force commander, I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess. The move-by-move control that seemed natural to military operations proved less effective than nurturing the organization— its structure, processes, and culture— to enable the subordinate components to function with “smart autonomy.” It wasn’t total autonomy, because the efforts of every part of the team were tightly linked to a common concept for the fight, but it allowed those forces to be enabled with a constant flow of “shared consciousness” from across the force, and it freed them to execute actions in pursuit of the overall strategy as best they saw fit.

      Within our Task Force, as in a garden, the outcome was less dependent on the initial planting than on consistent maintenance. Watering, weeding, and protecting plants from rabbits and disease are essential for success. The gardener cannot actually “grow” tomatoes, squash, or beans— she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so.”

      McChrystal, General Stanley; Collins, Tantum; Silverman, David; Fussell, Chris (2015-05-12). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (pp. 224-225). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

      His willingness to look within and into other disciplines to seek solutions to the leadership challenges he encountered dealing with AQI rather than getting more entrenched in being the “chess master” leader struck me as so unexpected and refreshing to read. I learned a lot reading his book, when I expected it to be another “I-am-GREAT” kind of pat myself on the back kind of book, which is what most of these military books are like.

  2. JK

    Like Robert I’ll admit to some reservations on pretty much all Rolly Stoney, then there was that story they published (I think) about “Mattress Girl” which, given what’s followed on (you may’ve LB seen Anna’s post?) only served set what formerly I’d called reservations – now an assessment set in concrete.

    As for McChrystal, I’ve only seen him on TV – yet to read the book – but I formed (via Charlie Rose) an opinion of the guy I’d call it oh, “remarkably refreshing” given many of my experiences with Generals/Admirals … in a word, humble.

    The excerpt you put up LB, about “Mom’s Garden” serving to only reinforce that earlier opinion.

    Robert? You noted that link I put on the other site? (If I can find the post, that came outta the comments … *sounds of Search Engine gears turning)

  3. Robert

    JK, yes I saw that link. Quite informative….I never knew there was such a word.

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