Brigadier General Armfield and Lieutenant General Fister have written an excellent primer that answers the basic question, “What are the characteristics of leadership?” What separates this book from many others on the topic of leadership is that the authors use personal military experience to demonstrate the essential characteristics of leadership. They have taken the research on leadership and put it into practice to demonstrate how the research is applied in their day-to-day lives in the military.
The early chapters deal with the building blocks of leadership: character, trust and understanding the culture that surrounds you. The chapter on “culture” stands out since many individuals in leadership positions understand the importance of character, trust and having a moral compass, but if they do not understand the culture that they are dealing with, the chances of success are minimum. The authors point out the importance of understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. Leaders need to adapt to the culture that surrounds them and not the other way around.
The next few chapters deal with roles and responsibilities. To be a successful leader, it is certainly important to have a vision and a plan, but what is equally important is to be able to empower individuals to carry out the plan based on the vision. Again, the authors illustrate the right way to empower individuals through thoughtful communication, delegation and feedback. What stands out in these chapters is the understanding that trust goes both ways. Subordinates need to trust their leaders but more importantly, leaders need to trust their subordinates. Otherwise, the plan will fail no matter how much thought has gone into it.
The final chapters stress an extremely important message about leadership: Leadership is not stagnant; it is always evolving. Great leaders are always learning by using past successes and failures to do better in the next crisis that they face. Each new crisis requires that leaders understand the situation and how it is similar and different to other crises. Adaptation is key. Being able to evolve as leaders and bringing individuals along with you in this evolution will be the way to meet new challenges.
By combining the basic characteristics of leadership with real-life experiences, Armfield and Fister have written a comprehensive primer on leadership in the 21st century.
Philip P. DiStefano
University of Colorado, Boulder