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Strategic Leadership

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Think Like a General…Lead Like an Executive
“At their center, great organizations such as America's armed forces are the product of great leaders. This fantastic book reveals the keys to success within the military culture, as well as relevant and practical application tools for creating strong leaders today.” 
—Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness
What distinguishes strategic leadership? According to top U.S. Army generals, the difference lies in the discipline of thinking. Because the problems strategic leaders face are often multi-faceted and can involve ethical dilemmas, these leaders must move beyond thinking tactically and take a longer term, broader approach to finding solutions. Through the U.S. Army War College and other senior-service colleges, the Army teaches strategic thinking to its officers, developing some of the most esteemed leaders of our time.
Strategic Leadership: The General's Art provides aspiring leaders with an understanding of the behavior and competencies that make a good strategic leader. In line with the curriculum followed by senior officers attending the U.S. Army War College, this book teaches leaders how to think strategically in a volatile, uncertain environment and thereby to provide transformational leadership and shape outcomes.
With contributions from senior military leaders as well as experts in the fields of strategic leadership, systems and critical thinking, and corporate culture, this invaluable reference shows readers how to move from mid-level manager to strategic-thinking senior executive.
Strategic Leadership: The General's Art provides aspiring leaders with an understanding of the behavior and competencies that make a good strategic leader. In line with the curriculum followed by senior officers attending the U.S. Army War College, this book teaches leaders how to think strategically in a volatile, uncertain environment and thereby to provide transformational leadership and shape outcomes.
With contributions from senior military leaders as well as experts in the fields of strategic leadership, systems and critical thinking, and corporate culture, this invaluable reference shows readers how to move from mid-level manager to strategic-thinking senior executive.

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CHAPTER 1 Creating a Culture of Leadership Development

ePub

George E. Reed, PhD

During the first weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith led an engineer unit as part of an infantry task force that was advancing toward the Baghdad airport. While constructing an enemy prisoner of war holding area, the unit was attacked by a force of over a hundred enemy fighters armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Outnumbered and nearly surrounded, Sergeant Smith engaged the enemy with grenades, an antitank weapon, and small arms while directing the fire and movements of his soldiers. After several of his soldiers were injured, he realized that the enemy had the upper hand. Sergeant Smith then climbed into the hatch of a disabled armored vehicle and exposed himself to enemy fire in order to employ a .50 caliber machine gun in an attempt to delay the advance. He was successful in disrupting the enemy attack, but in the process he was mortally wounded.

His fellow soldiers honored him for his courageous leadership and for saving the lives of his men. Sergeant Smith’s sister later recounted that he “had an incredible love for the troops under his command. . . . In the last letter that Paul Smith wrote from Iraq to our parents, he told them that now that he was a father himself, he realized just how much they had sacrificed to make his life a good life and he thanked them for that special effort. He spoke of being prepared to give—as he said—‘all that I am, to ensure that all my boys make it home.’ In that same letter, he told our parents how proud he was of the ‘privilege to be given 25 of the finest Americans we call Soldiers to lead into war,’ and he recognized their fears and his responsibilities for their welfare.”1 Congress celebrated his sacrifice by awarding him the nation’s most revered medal—the Medal of Honor. In a touching ceremony at the White House, his wife and children received the medal in his stead.

 

CHAPTER 2 Self-Awareness: Enhancing Strategic Leader Development

ePub

Craig Bullis, PhD

Make progress, my brothers; examine yourselves honestly again and again. . . . Do not be content with what you are. . . . Always add something more, keep moving forward, always make progress.

ST. AUGUSTINE, SERMON 169

Leader development programs that result in enhanced self-awareness can be one of an organization’s most difficult and yet most rewarding efforts. The importance of this challenge is that leaders have significant effects on the competitive advantage of organizations.1 Organizations that develop leaders are simply better than those that focus their emphasis elsewhere.2 Optimizing strategic leadership development, therefore, provides the fundamental challenge for virtually all large-scale organizations in the modern world. In the U.S. Army, “growing adaptive leaders” is a major strategy of the Army’s vision “to remain the preeminent landpower on Earth.”3 Re-search in nonmilitary organizations argues that a similar strategy can be advantageous in such firms.4 Consequently, the development of leaders at all levels becomes the long-term priority of any organization that depends on competitive advantage for survival. Following St. Augustine’s suggestion, this chapter argues for and describes processes to encourage leaders to “make progress” in their own development.

 

CHAPTER 3 Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking

ePub

Stephen Gerras, PhD

Technological advances alone do not constitute change. The most dramatic advances in military operations over history have been borne of ideas—ideas about warfighting, organization and doctrine. The Army’s most critical asset will not be technology; it will be critical thinking.1

AUSA TORCHBEARER NATIONAL SECURITY REPORT, MARCH 2005

In the post-Cold War security environment, many senior leaders in the Army and throughout the Department of Defense have asserted a need to develop better critical thinking skills.2 The requirement for better critical thinkers stems from a realization that the complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity of the current environment mandates a need to refrain from Cold War thinking methodologies and assumptions.

One of the main impediments to understanding and using critical thinking, both inside and outside the military, centers on a lack of a common definition. No one discipline owns the construct. Most of the material about critical thinking derives from philosophy, education, and psychology.3 There are, however, competing schools of thought on what critical thinking is and how to best develop it.

 

CHAPTER 4 Systems Thinking and Senior Leadership

ePub

George E. Reed, PhD

For every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat—and wrong. This maxim has been attributed at various times to Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken and Peter Drucker as a wake-up call to managers who mistakenly think that making a change in just one part of a complex problem will cure the ails of an entire system. Everyday management thinking too often looks for straightforward cause and effect relationships in problem solving that ignore the effect on, and feedback from, the entire system.1

RON ZEMKE, “SYSTEMS THINKING”

The U.S. Army War College suggests that senior leadership often takes place in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Problems in this arena are rarely simple and clear-cut. If they were, they would likely have already been solved by someone else. If not well considered (and sometimes even when they are), today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems. Inherent in the concept of strategic leadership is the notion that this environment requires different ways of thinking about problems and organizations. The Army War College curriculum stresses concepts of systems thinking and suggests that systems thinking is a framework that should be understood and applied by strategic leaders.

 

CHAPTER 5 Strategic Leaders and the Uses of History

ePub

Mark Grandstaff, PhD

Having taught at two war colleges, I have observed a trend among many field-grade officers to see the study of history as irrelevant.1 Why? Many undoubtedly find themselves too focused on immediate concerns to properly learn how to “use” history. Others do not like to read traditional history, finding the prose turgid, the results dubious, and the arguments exhausting.2 Some simply do not like the academic approach. Professors typically ask more questions than they answer, seemingly enter into long debates over trifles, and perhaps worst of all, encourage students to shatter preconceptions. Other officers argue that technology, i.e., superior weapons and new intelligence-gathering methods, has made the study of history “a thing of the past.”3 For them it is about the future and finding the right technology—the right “silver bullet”—to handle the situation. It is about “forward-thinking” and “transformation.”

 

CHAPTER 6 Creative Thinking for Individuals and Teams

ePub

COL Charles D. Allen, U.S. Army

The United States’ national security and contemporary operating environments have been characterized by the U.S. Army War College Strategic Leadership Primer and other Department of Defense (DoD) documents as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA).1 Operating effectively in this context requires leaders to manage the multiple demands of such an environment by enhancing their strategic thinking. In the first core course in the Army War College curriculum, “Strategic Thinking,” we study five important thinking domains: creative thinking, critical thinking, historical thinking, ethical reasoning, and systems thinking. An underlying assumption is that providing students with the fundamentals of how to think, not what to think, is essential for leaders at the strategic level.

Learning how to think is no small task, especially in highly technical professions operating in VUCA environments. Our senior leadership must be skilled in developing and applying creative strategies to circumstances about which they have limited current knowledge or understanding. For that reason, we expect students to apply creative and critical thinking skills to the myriad scenarios that they will face throughout the academic year, both individually and in groups.

 

CHAPTER 7 Visioning, Environmental Scanning, and Futuring for Strategic Leaders

ePub

COL James Oman, U.S. Army, and COL Mark Eshelman, U.S. Army

Leaders operating at the strategic level must be adept in accomplishing a wide range of tasks that include providing vision, environmental scanning and futuring, shaping organizational culture, developing cultural competency, learning how to negotiate differences, and leading change.1 Skillful practice of these tasks is necessary in order to successfully lead large, complex organizations.

Although there are many strategic leadership competencies, arguably one of the more difficult, yet extremely critical strategic leader skills is that of creating and implementing an organizational vision. The topic of visioning has been an enduring, prominent lesson embedded within the U.S. Army War College Strategic Leadership course. Visioning and its integral, interwoven components, environmental scanning and futuring, are examined in three lessons. Each focus represents a key component in the process and is necessary to posture an organization for mid-and long-term success.

 

CHAPTER 8 Strategic Leadership and Organizational Culture

ePub

Stephen Gerras, PhD, and COL Charles Allen, U.S. Army

One of the principal purposes of the U.S. Army War College is to instill an appreciation for the methods of formulating national security strategy for the Department of Defense (DoD). Organizational culture has a significant impact on DoD’s ability to change its strategy to align with the environment. Why did the Army resist letting go of horses and mules when mechanization of warfare with tanks and automobiles was clearly the future after World War I? Why did the Navy hold on to battleships well beyond their useful purpose after the Cold War ended? Why is the Air Force resisting the use of remotely piloted vehicles when they are demonstrating great capabilities during current operations across the globe? Why has there been so much discussion about how the Army’s culture must transform in order to align itself with the contemporary operating environment?1 The answer to these questions centers around organizational culture.

 

CHAPTER 9 Cultural Diversity and Leadership

ePub

COL Julie T. Manta, U.S. Army

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

WILLIAM JAMES

The U.S. military is no different from most large organizations, both public and private, whose leaders are studying the impact of globalization and the interdependence of nations and diverse peoples. Thomas Friedman labels this phenomenon “Globalization 3.0” and characterizes it as “the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally to flatten and shrink the world.” He emphasizes that the people driving Globalization 3.0 will become more diverse and that “non-Western, non-white . . . individuals from every corner of the flat world are being empowered” through the development of technology and their ability to connect. Friedman’s observations encourage leaders to think about the forces of globalization and the implications of leading in a multicultural and diverse environment.1

 

CHAPTER 10 The Strategic Leader as Negotiator

ePub

COL George Woods, U.S. Army

I have come to believe that negotiation is the single most important skill that leaders exercise during their transitions to new roles.

MICHAEL WATKINS, SHAPING THE GAME

Leadership is, and always has been, a main emphasis of instruction in the Army and at the U.S. Army War College. As Watkins’ statement above makes clear, negotiation is an important aspect of leadership. It may not be the most important skill, but it certainly is one of the most important. This chapter examines the topic of negotiation and negotiating and how the Army War College incorporates it into its core course on strategic leadership.

The U.S. Army has approached the study of leadership using a three-tiered system to describe the requisite technical, cognitive, and interpersonal skills required to successfully lead at various levels within the Army. They are the direct, organizational, and strategic levels. Each level emphasizes skill sets most essential to that level. For example, leaders at the direct level, often associated with the lower levels of the hierarchy, typically see immediate and tangible outcomes resulting from their leadership, whereas those at the strategic level may not see the outcomes for years, nor will the results be as tangible as those witnessed at the direct level.

 

CHAPTER 11 Leading Change

ePub

COL Lee DeRemer, U.S. Air Force

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like being irrelevant even less.

GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI, U.S. ARMY

Consider the topic of change. We live, learn, and serve in a time of unprecedented rates of change, complexity, and interdependence.1 No life, no organization, and no environment is static. In our volatile, uncertain, and complex world, some strategic leaders impose change on the world around them; others react to change imposed on them and their organizations. Successfully leading change at the strategic level incorporates a host of essential leadership skills: visioning, scanning, and futuring; understanding organizational culture and climate; developing cultural competency; and developing strategic negotiation skills.

Entering a strategic leadership role means leaving the realm of technical competence and clearly defined responsibilities behind. The strategic leader understands that many dynamics act as change drivers in the lives of both individuals and organizations. Change drivers include (1) transnational issues, such as population migration, narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, and terrorism; (2) demographic issues, such as aging populations and changing national heritage; (3) social issues, such as declining numbers of functional high school graduates and changing cultural values; (4) an international order that is simultaneously experiencing both globalization and fragmentation; and (5) the resource implications of all of these challenges. Those who can’t broaden their scope of interest to understand the impact of these issues on their organizations’ ability to complete their missions effectively are probably not prepared to succeed on the strategic leadership landscape.

 

CHAPTER 12 Gettysburg: A Case Study in Strategic Leadership

ePub

COL Mark Eshelman, U.S. Army, and COL James Oman, U.S. Army

Located 30 miles south of the U.S. Army War College is the Gettysburg battlefield. As a pivotal battle in the American Civil War—the war that affirmed our identity as a united nation—the battle of Gettysburg has particular significance for our institution, which is charged with educating and developing strategic leaders. As military professionals, many of our staff and faculty have combat experience and can identify with those who fought at Gettysburg in 1863. What happened at Gettysburg is part of our heritage, and when we remember and use it to develop strategic leaders, we honor those who fought and died there.

This chapter addresses many of the teaching points we offer to our students and the visitors to whom we give the Gettysburg staff ride. Since its founding in the early 20th century, the Army War College has conducted staff rides at the Gettysburg battlefield. The Gettysburg campaign provides insights into the theory and practice of war, strategy, and leadership.

 

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