“This book is our attempt to take that first step toward a general theory of leadership. Inspired by [David] Brooks’s question [Who would Plutarch write about today?], we have mimicked Plutarch’s structure by profiling thirteen famous leaders in six pairs and one standing alone: Robert E. Lee. Like Plutarch, each of our paired chapters opens with a brief introduction and ends with a comparison of the two profiled leaders, in hopes that the juxtaposition of the profiles will reveal the complexity of leadership and shed light on the way most of us end up seeing the myth instead of the reality. …
The profiles are selected and crafted to be educational and entertaining. Not all of our figures were good leaders, or even good people. Some succeeded because they were talented, some because they were extraordinarily committed, some through luck, and some never truly tasted success at all. Right or wrong, success or failure, each was a significant factor in the outcome we see as history today. …
Don’t scan the text for new leadership checklists. We will use stories to challenge traditional leadership models, but we stop short of prescribing how to lead. It is our hope that by helping to dismantle some common myths we will create space for you and other leaders to interact with reality and respond to your challenges with clear thinking and humility.
Finally, by itself, Leaders will not make you into a great leader. It won’t overcome weak values, a lack of self-discipline, or personal stupidity. Instead of simplifying the challenge of leading, Leaders will outline and underscore the complexities. Leadership has always been difficult, and in the face of a rapidly changing environment, it will only get harder.
But it won’t be impossible, and it will be essential.”
~ General Stanley McChrystal from Leaders
I got this book after I saw General Stanley McChrystal’s blurb on the back of Ryan Holiday’s Lives of the Stoics. I read it in one 8.8-hour Deep Work-filled day. It’s fantastic.
Both Ryan and General McChrystal (and his co-authors Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone) use Plutarch and his profiles of some of history’s most prominent figures as their inspiration.
Whereas Ryan features twenty-six Stoics, McChrystal focuses on thirteen leaders in six pairs plus one standing alone. We’ve featured a number of books on leadership including Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis, Lead Yourself First by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. We also have our 60-minute class in which I share 10 of favorite ideas in Leadership 101.
Almost all of those books are prescriptive in nature. This book is not. Rather than make us believe that there’s a nice, simple recipe for leadership, McChrystal, Eggers and Mangone present us with the “myths” of leadership and the MUCH MESSIER “realities” of leadership.
After the profiles of the thirteen leaders, the authors present the three myths of leadership and their new definition of leadership. We end the book with the sober recognition of just how complex, dynamic and context-specific good leadership is.
It’s a challenging, important book that’s difficult to distill into a nice and tidy and practical 6-page Note but I’m excited to share some of my favorite Ideas as we all continue to step up into our own idiosyncratic expressions of Heroic leadership. So... Let’s get to work!
Unlock this PhilosophersNote
Sign Up Today
Create your account to get more wisdom in less time. Personal
development made simple so you can flourish in energy, work, and