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Leadership Lessons from the Patriot Way

Leadership Lessons from the Patriot Way

A Review of Jeff Benedict’s The Dynasty

By Oren Abusch-Magder

When I failed my first patrol at Ranger School, I paused and told myself “we’re on to Cincinnati.” On September 30th 2014, the New England Patriots were drubbed 41-14 by the Kansas City Chiefs on prime time TV. Patriots head coach Bill Belichik was asked repeatedly by the press if Tom Brady would continue to start as quarterback. Belichik answered each question with the same phrase: “We’re on to Cincinnati.” The message to his team and to the world was clear: there was no looking back, just forward to next week’s opponent. The following Sunday, the Patriots upset Cincinnati and went on to win the Super Bowl that February. Since that week, I have used “we’re on to Cincinnati” as my personal mantra in order to move on from the past and stay focused on the future.

Jeff Benedict’s The Dynasty chronicles the last 25 years of the New England Patriots franchise. It follows the three individuals Benedict identified as most influential to the team’s success: owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichik, and starting quarterback Tom Brady. Together, in nineteen years, they led the Patriots to an unparalleled six Super Bowl wins, nine Super Bowl appearances, thirteen AFC Championship games, and seventeen division titles. The book offers a number of leadership lessons that have direct application to military leaders, including a caution about losing the public’s trust. 

Are You an Ultralearner?

Are You an Ultralearner?


By Joe Byerly

I recently finished Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young. This is an interesting read and in many respects can serve as the self-development bible for those addicted to learning.

Scott has taken on self-directed challenges that include finishing an undergrad MIT curriculum in a year, avoided speaking English for a year (learning and only speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean), and becoming a portrait artist in 30 days.

Check out my ultraquick interview with Scott and make sure you check out his website too!

How do you define ultralearning and can you name a few famous people who you consider ultralearners?

In the book, I define ultralearning as aggressive, self-directed learning. Meaning people who take on their own projects to learn something, and pursue it doggedly and seriously (as opposed to dabbling). There are a number of people I felt epitomized the practice of ultralearning in my book, but many famous people have applied some of the approach in one way or another throughout their lives: Vincent Van Gogh, Richard Feynman, Benjamin Franklin and many others can all have said to have done some ultralearning efforts at some point, albeit in different ways.

How important is feedback in learning a new skill? Are there circumstances where feedback isn’t helpful?

The Centurions: 10 Passages that Will Make You Reflect on War and Leadership

The Centurions: 10 Passages that Will Make You Reflect on War and Leadership

By Joe Byerly

Recently, I read Jean Lartégy’s The Centurions. The novel follows a group of French paratroopers through their tour in Vietnam, time as POWs, their return to France, and their subsequent deployment to Algeria.

Although it was written 40 years ago, it’s full of powerful lessons about war and leadership that remain valid today.  One of my favorite passages from the book is the description of two armies:

“I’d like France to have two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their general’s bowel movements or their colonel’s piles: an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.

“The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display from whom possible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.”

As I read these words, I couldn’t help but reflect on our Army today, wondering which military we represent: The one on display or the one for fighting. Are the leaders we invest in and bring up through the ranks the ones who contribute and excel at the army on display or can they excel in the requirements of the modern battlefield? Do we place great value in adherence to regulations, customs and courtesies, or do we promote a culture of war fighting? Do we train our formations for the war we want to fight or the wars we are fighting now? I honestly don’t know the answer.

Below are some of the other passages I thought worth highlighting. I hope in reading this post, if you haven’t already, you will pick up a copy of The Centurions and think through the type of soldier and leader you want to be.

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?


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


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


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?



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?


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


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.”