Lead with the best version of yourself.

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?

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By Joshua Spodek

Chatting about my upcoming book, Initiative, a friend and fellow blogger, Joe Byerly of From The Green Notebook, asked if people could learn to take initiative. I saw his question as rhetorical, since he’d read an advance copy, so he knew I’d taught just that, but he wanted to see how I’d answer. A lot of people believe you can’t.

Joshua Spodek's Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work), 3d cover

First, there’s a big reason why, independent of the answer, most of us would believe we can’t learn initiative: mainstream schooling.

For whatever facts, analytical, and testing skills schools teach, if you look at the behavior they teach, it’s compliance — nearly the opposite of initiative: when you have to attend, where, what subjects you study, what about each subject to study, how to study, how to act, how to show what you’ve learned, and so on. Schools mostly teach the opposite of initiative. They often punish initiative.

Warfare Has Moved On: The New Rules of War

Warfare Has Moved On: The New Rules of War

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By Joe Byerly

One of my favorite books this year is Sean McFate’s The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder. Sean challenges everything I’ve learned over the last 15 years, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s right. I had a chance to catch up with him and ask about his new book, the future of war, and professional development.

Joe: How would you characterize war today and where do you think it’s going?

Sean: There’s a saying that generals always fight the last successful war. For the US, what that means is World War II. And when you ask experts what the future of war looks like, they will often tell you it’s like World War II with better technology. What they are talking about is conventional warfare with better technology. But that is not where warfare is going.

War is getting sneakier. And the weapons that work today are not the traditional weapons of the past. Weapons that give you good, plausible deniability are the ones that work today. This includes the use of special operations and paramilitary forces because we live in a global information age. Often, plausible deniability is more important than firepower.

For an example of the future of war, let’s look at how Russia took Crimea. They had a big military. They could have launched a blitzkrieg through eastern Ukraine and seized Crimea. But they didn’t. They used covert means to take it. They used Spetznatz (Russian Special Forces), they used little green men, mercenaries like the Wagner group, separatist battalions (that actually worked for the GRU), and a lot of propaganda that they call active measures. They created a ghost occupation. While the US and the West scratched their head about the event, wondering if Russia was actually there, Russia had already seized Crimea. That is the future of war.

Joe: In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Prussian generals continued to train and prepare for Frederick the Great’s War while Napoleon was changing the rules of the game. And as we know, the French crushed army after army. Are we the Prussians right now?

General Donn Starry on Leadership

General Donn Starry on Leadership

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By Joe Byerly

As military leaders we should want nothing more than to give our enemies an unfair fight—with the advantage in our favor. And one way in which we do this is through training our forces. I can’t think of anyone who has written as extensively on the “why” and “how” of training as Gen. Donn Starry.

In Vietnam, he commanded the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Following the war, he served as the commander of the Armor School, V Corps in Germany, and eventually Training and Doctrine Command. Under his leadership, the Army developed the AirLand Battle Doctrine in the early 1980s, which set the stage for the next two decades of force development. He retired in 1983 after commanding US Readiness Command.

A little over 40 years ago, in January of 1979 General Donn Starry addressed future battalion and brigade commanders at Fort Leavenworth’s Pre Command Course.

In the course of his remarks he provided leaders with insights on leadership that remain relevant today. Below are some excerpts from that speech.

On Careerism

What we’re trying to tell you is that, in some way to some extent careerism has kind of overtaken us. Entrepreneurship of the wrong kind has overtaken us. We are more concerned with my efficiency report and my outfit and my this and my that than we are in us, than we are in the results of the calculus that I’ve tried to describe for you. You have got to change that. Your leadership has to build synergism in your units so that something like that red line happens instead of the very high level of very low efficiency we have today.

McChrystal: Everything I Thought About Leadership Has Changed

McChrystal: Everything I Thought About Leadership Has Changed

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By Stanley McChrystal

Because leaders don’t rise as much as they emerge to fulfill a specific need for followers at moments, it can get dangerous when leaders emerge who give resonance to our darker impulses. To caution against this, we need to better understand why and how leaders emerge.

What we found upon looking back at 13 historical leaders—and we looked at a diverse group from Robert E. Lee to Margaret Thatcher to Zheng He—is that it was very easy to attribute broad trends and important outcomes to individuals. We oversimplify. We tend to overlook the facts and assume leadership follows a specific, replicable formula.

What Does It Mean to be a Military Professional?

What Does It Mean to be a Military Professional?

Redefining the Modern Military (1)

By Tony Ingesson and Ray Kimball 

Over fifty years have passed since the seminal texts that fundamentally changed the conversation on professional Western militaries were written. Samuel P. Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier, and Sir John Hackett’s Profession of Arms  quickly became benchmark publications that framed the discussion of the military as a profession, their place in Western societies, and modes of civil-military relations. These texts emerged during the brief window between the Korean and Vietnam Wars—the last two wars that America would fight with conscripted forces—a critical and opportune time for the American military.

First, these writers saw on the horizon great changes in the way America would lead, train, organize, and equip its military. Second, the deep introspection in the military following the victories of the Second World War and, maybe more importantly, the perceived failures of the Korean War, helped shape Western militaries going forward. Finally, in the wake of the professional and ethical failures in Vietnam, these texts were well placed to help shape new, modern, professional militaries.

Following almost two decades in a protracted conflict, now is the perfect time to reassess the profession and the key elements of how we develop professionals. In our chapters of the forthcoming book, Redefining the Modern Military: The Intersection of Profession and Ethics, we address issues of professional identity and mentoring in the military. Both of these topics are enduring and important aspects of the profession of arms and contribute to the ongoing discussion about military professionalism in ways that will resonate with junior officers, NCOs and PME students alike.

Can Your Network Help Your Career?

Can Your Network Help Your Career?

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One of my favorite books this year is Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks that Can Transform Your Life and Your Career by David Burkus. It’s not your typical business self-improvement book. Burkus examines 50+ years of research to argue that it’s not about growing your network—it is about understanding and navigating it. I recently interviewed David and we discussed networks, beers calls, and the success of General Stanley McChrystal.

Joe: How important are networks to personal and professional success?

David: They are so important that I wrote a book about it. A lot of people assume that networking is something they only need to do when they are looking for a job. But networking is fundamentally about information. Yes, it’s information about new opportunities, but it’s also information to help you make better decisions and see things from different perspectives. The quality of the decisions you make and who you get your information from are affected by your network.

The other thing I think is interesting that doesn’t get enough attention is that networks affect more than just your professional life.

Will Machines Change War as We Know It?

Will Machines Change War as We Know It?

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I recently had the pleasure of reading a copy of Paul Scharre’s Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War and it quickly became the book I recommend to any leader wishing to understand the complexity of autonomous systems. He provides readers with the most up to date legal, moral, and technical aspects of autonomous weapons and their impacts on the future of war. Tech already plays an important role in the military, and it’s only increasing. Army of None is a great place to begin thinking about it’s utility in future conflict. Last week I caught up with Paul and he shared his thoughts on autonomous weapons and war.

Joe: Does the current DoD policy state that we will always keep a person somewhere in the autonomous weapon decision chain?

Paul: The official DoD policy on autonomous weapons does not require a human in the loop. That’s a common misconception. However, when senior DoD and military leaders talk about autonomous weapons, they often say “We intend to keep a human in the loop.” The official policy actually gives a lot of latitude. And it lays out a series of guidelines and processes for gaining approval to include increased autonomy in weapon systems.

Joe: Where do you think we will fight the first battle of autonomous weapons vs. autonomous weapons? State actors or non-state actors?

Paul: The first autonomy vs. autonomy will likely take place in cyber space. Autonomy is moving forward in leaps and bounds and there are so many compelling pressures to take humans out of the loop because of speed. For instance, when you are operating on the enemy’s network you might not have persistent access and the time to move at the speed of human decision-making, so you will need something that’s able to operate out on it’s own. I think you will see an increase in autonomous systems operating on their own, battling it out on computer networks.

Joe: What impact will autonomous weapons have on the character and the nature of war?

Learning is a Team Sport: An Interview With General Dempsey and Ori Brafman

Learning is a Team Sport: An Interview With General Dempsey and Ori Brafman

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Back in the fall, I read an advanced copy of Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadershipand couldn’t put it down. In 173 pages, General Dempsey and Ori Brafman challenged me to become a better leader. Thankfully, I got a chance to ask them a few questions about teamwork, leadership in the 21st century, and some recommended reading.

JOE: The two of you come from radically different backgrounds, yet you’ve worked together on several projects throughout the years. What have you learned about the importance of connecting outside of your professional circles?

ORI: It could very well be that your average Berkeley student is less likely than to have interacted with a personal in uniform than a civilian in Iraq. But when we have substantive conversations with those outside our circles that aren’t bogged down by politics or platitudes, we find that our core beliefs are much more similar than we could have expected. Getting the other’s perspective allows us to have not only a broader but a more accurate perspective of the world. We’re humbled that even the City of Berkeley has declared June 4 Bridging the Military/Civilian Divide Day.

DEMPSEY: You mean the fact that Ori is a Berkeley instructor with a degree in Peace Studies and a Vegan, and I’m…well, none of those things! Actually, we became friends when he offered to help me adapt the Army’s training and education system to address the realities of speed, complexity, and decentralization in our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that point, we became mutually-committed to sending the message together that learning is a “team sport.”

Getting the Cannons to Boston: Henry Knox

Getting the Cannons to Boston: Henry Knox

 

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You’re reading an excerpt from Serial Box and the Associated Press’s new series, 1776: A World Turned Upside down

Learn more about this project here.

Between chatting up customers, Knox was also reading all he could lay his hands on about artillery. The “Boston Grenadier Corps” whose members had to be at least five feet ten inches tall to best show off their splendid uniforms, gave Knox, six feet or more, the post of second in command. Knox, a genial sponge, absorbed all he could of the military arts.

In addition to artillery power, he was captivated by the political confrontations and strife around Boston. He had been present at the Boston Massacre and had tried to prevent the British troopers from firing into the crowd. He had fallen in love with Lucy Flucker, daughter of the Loyalist Secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thomas Flucker, the father, offered his influence to get Knox a commission in the British Army, but Knox refused. The family’s opposition to the marriage caused one Boston wit to rhyme:

But whoever heard                                                                                                                                                                Of a marriage deterred,                                                                                                                                    Or even deferred                                                                                                                                           By any contrivance so absurd                                                                                                             As holding the boy and caging his bird?

Stout Knox and the equally stout Lucy were wed notwithstanding, and she never saw her parents again. Meanwhile, Knox was spending more time with Nathanael Greene studying military science. When Revere stopped by to talk politics, the two would feign an argument to avert suspicion anytime a Loyalist entered the shop. After Lexington and Concord, Knox bundled himself and his sword beneath a cloak and by dark of night slipped over Roxbury Neck. Knox promptly offered to help design fortifications around Boston for the defending American rabble, and when Washington and Charles Lee, his third in command, inspected the work, “they expressed the greatest pleasure and surprise.” Washington had found a lifelong friend and his chief of artillery. Knox was only too happy, but where were the cannon? Then Knox remembered: Ticonderoga. Even before Congress, more militant now, approved the mission, Knox had set off with his younger brother, William, for New York. “No trouble or expense [should] be spared to obtain them,” Washington said in parting.

One story has it that Knox spent the night at Fort George on the way north where he met British Major John Andre, who had been captured by General Richard Montgomery. True or not, Knox five years later sat on the court martial that condemned Andre to death for his role in Benedict Arnold’s treason.

At Ticonderoga, Knox decided most of the captured guns were too worn for much use, and sorted out 59 cannons ranging from 4- to 24-pounders (the weight of the ball they fired). One was a fat mortar they nicknamed The Old Sow, which “hove bombs to an amazing distance.” By December 9, Knox had the guns aboard a selection of lake boats and set out down Lake George against the ice and snow. High waves sank William Knox’s boat “luckily near shore … [so that] we were able to bail her out.” Henry Knox, up ahead, had reached the southern end of the lake and “went ashore and warmed ourselves by an exceeding good fire in a hut made by some civil Indians who were with their ladies abed. They gave us some venison, roasted after their manner, which was very relishing.” Knox, the gourmand, even in the wild.

Bookish, Bold, and Jolly: Henry Knox

Bookish, Bold, and Jolly: Henry Knox

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You’re reading an excerpt from Serial Box and the Associated Press’s new series, 1776: A World Turned Upside down

Learn more about this project here.

Paine provided the intellectual and emotional flint to spark colonists’ feelings into flames, Knox provided the physical means for the revolutionary army to start fighting. Henry Knox was a bookworm and also a poor, fatherless boy. To support his mother and his younger brother, by the age of 9 he was apprenticed to Boston booksellers. He was encouraged to read by Mr. Wharton and Mr. Bowes, his employers, but fiction was not his game. The glory of war and particularly the noisiest aspect of war, artillery, fascinated the boy, and he read every book on war, military training, and particularly weaponry stocked in the bookstore. Henry could hold his own in the rough and tumble of Boston alleys, but at the bookshop, he impressed patrons, including Sam and his cousin John Adams, with his intelligence and pleasant manner.

In his free time, he added to his book knowledge of war by observing militia drills and military parades. Eventually, Henry, 16 years old, joined ranks under the command of Loyalist Lieutenant Adino Paddock, where he learned about loading, firing and maintaining artillery pieces. From treatises such as Sharpe’s Military Guide, he absorbed information about designing effective fortifications, transporting heavy cannons, and discerning topographic features that could win or lose a battle. At 21 in 1771, Henry Knox opened his own bookshop with stock purchased and sent from London, as well as stationery, ledgers, and journals. But the trials of the British occupation of Boston inspired him to leave the comfort of a pleasant bookstore proprietorship to embark on a wintry visit to Fort Ticonderoga, which required all his youthful energy, savvy problem-solving, and fending off a few competitors as well.

The Founding Failure

The Founding Failure

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Thomas Paine

You’re reading an excerpt from Serial Box and the Associated Press’s new series, 1776: A World Turned Upside down

Learn more about this project here.

The Founding Corset-Maker

 Tom Paine had been a dabbler at many things, a failure at all. Some of it he blamed on King George. It rankled even after he left England, so one day he took his quill and decided to put it all down on paper.

On January 9, 1776, in Philadelphia, a pamphlet titled Common Sense was published. It said in public what even most of the red-hot hawks had dared think only to themselves:

that the King was a tyrant and the only path for the colonies was independence. It uttered – screamed aloud – the unutterable. Probably more than any one event, more than any one person, Common Sense made it respectable for the general citizenry of the 13 colonies to conceive that their Revolution would be revolutionary; indeed to think of a communal future in independence.

The anonymously published pamphlet and the mystery of the author stoked interest. King George III thought Ben Franklin wrote it; others assumed it was John Adams. No, Thomas Paine had, even though he signed it merely, “an Englishman.” Thomas Jefferson once said Paine was “the only writer in America, who can write better” than Jefferson himself. That was a signal compliment coming from a college-trained lawyer who was about to do some significant writing of his own. It is even more surprising considering that Paine was a dropout from school, who failed twice as a corset-maker, twice as a tax collector, had two failed marriages, and was now on his second country, having been in the colonies less than two years. He had not yet dropped out of writing because he had scarcely ever done any. But, he scored a hit almost the first time out.

Tom Paine was 37 when he arrived in Philadelphia in November 1774, bearing a recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, a first-class boat ticket and strong opinions about George III. He had been born in Thetford, north of London, where he may have imbibed some views of democracy in Georgian England. Thetford had 2,000 inhabitants and two members in Parliament although only 31 citizens were eligible to vote for them. For Paine’s father, religion and profession were equally straight-laced: Quakerism and corset making. By scrimping, the father managed to send the son to school for seven years, but Tom was weak in Latin, the requisite passport into the professions. He had, however, developed an interest in the natural history of Virginia and ran off to sea, leaving his apprenticeship behind. His father caught him before the boat could sail, but Tom got away again, this time successfully. He next appeared as a journeyman corset-maker in London, age 20, and eventually drifted to Sandwich, setting himself up in the girdle business with a £10 loan, which he never repaid. “Disgusted with the toil and little gain,” Paine, now a widower, bade farewell to corsets for good and became an excise tax collector.