I follow the leadership books top seller list on Amazon and while my wallet keeps me from buying them all, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to read them all. Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal has been on the list forever and ended up at our house at Christmas. (Believe it or not, a guy bought it for my daughter….) So I pounced on it pretty quickly.
“If I told you we weren’t going home until we win, what would you do differently?” – Gen Stanley McChrystal
Team of Teams is a military leadership book, which are always great, this one is no exception. The amount of data and detail coming at us daily, along with the increasing speed of change, is forcing leadership to adapt and this book vividly highlights the problems and the solutions. While the principles of leadership aren’t changing, the way we implement them is clearly evolving and maturing. Team of Teams exposes us to a huge shift that is taking place in leadership and
General McChrystal does a masterful job showing us how to adapt.
“To win we had to change. Surprisingly, that change was less about tactics or new technology than it was about the internal architecture and culture of our force, in other words, our approach to management.” – Gen Stanley McChrystal
The first 25% of this book presents the significant challenge of losing to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan (and around the world). Through a series of captivating stories, McChrystal shows how a highly organized, efficient military that can move mountains at the drop of a hat was getting their butts kicked by a small ragtag group of terrorists.
“Most organizations are more concerned with how best to control information than how best to share it.” – Gen Stanley McChrystal
The middle half of the book spends a significant amount of time walking you thru a number of different key people and stories from history. They are insightful and important, but the author doesn’t completely expose why they’re important. At one point, I wasn’t quite sure why I needed all the detailed research. While I love history and great people, my “let’s just get to the meat and potatoes” focus was beginning to creep in. Thru this middle part of the book, McChrystal is building a foundation for the grand finale that is coming next. This huge focus on the why with all it’s evidence turns into an “ah ha moment” as you move into the final section of the book.
I’m going off-road here for a moment so bear with me…
In the middle section of the book, there were a couple times I struggled at picking the book back up. I was reminded again that my reading a blog post before bed or catching a podcast while exercising, creates a “skip the little details” and “just give me the nugget” attitude and conditioning isn’t good for me or my leadership growth. As our lives get busier and faster, we tend to just want the nuggets and skip all the work to learn why the nuggets are important and powerful. The problem is that without the why, the meat and potatoes that we’re after don’t have context and without context they don’t take root as deeply. While I enjoy blogs, articles and podcasts, at the end of the day, they are the meat we get from McDonalds (quick, fast and cheap) and Team of Teams reminded me again, the depth and detail we get from books is the Lone Star Steakhouse ribeye with all the trimmings.
“Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. There heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, selling complexity and interdependence. Even the most successful of today’s heroic leaders appear uneasy in the saddle, all too aware that their ability to understand and control is a fantasy. We have to begin leading differently.” – Gen Stanley McChrystal
In the final portion of the book everything comes together and if this were the 4th of July fireworks display, it’s the grand finale. This is where the book outlines how leadership needs to look both now and in the future. The practical applications that comes out are something every leader needs to know because the world around us is changing quickly and here are the insights we need to adapt and grow. This last portion of this book is marked up with notes and highlights everywhere.
“I would tell my staff about the “dinosaur’s tail”: As a leader grows more senior, his bulk and tail become huge, but like the brontosaurus, his brain remains modestly small. When plans are changed and the huge beast turns, is tail often thoughtlessly knocks over people and things. That the destruction was unintentional doesn’t make it any better.” – Gen Stanley McChrystal
General McChrystal exposes the depth and quality that comes from a battle proven leader. A General leading thousands of people spread across multiple continents solving a massive problem and he does an incredible job detailing the shift taking place in leadership, its impact on the battle and each of us as leaders.
If you want to be a successful 21st Century leader, you need to read this book.
You can pick the the book up here
The Mission The Men and Me, Lessons From a Delta Force Commander
3 Key Characteristics of Great Teams