Military service is our nation’s preeminent leadership experience. We need to keep it that way, and I need your help to do it. Doing so requires us to promote and emphasize the values that define our profession of arms. It includes leveraging technology, but not as a substitute for human interaction. It involves providing our men and women with the best education and training. It means asking them to lead in diverse and challenging contexts—to experience and recover from setbacks, unexpected events, and even chaos.
It also means embracing leadership as a personal responsibility. In this way, leadership is something that requires persistent study and constant ref lection. With that in mind, I want to share some words to lead by.
Leader Development Is Job One
I have often said that in the face of change, the one thing we have to get right is the people. Our men and women are our greatest strength, and I firmly believe that developing them into tomorrow’s great leaders is the best investment in our future.
Leadership is what will see us through when our organizational structure is not perfect, when technology comes up short, when training misses the mark, and when guidance is late to need.
Our nation needs innovative leaders who can think through complex problems and out-think our adversaries. We need professionals who can reconcile context, uncertainty, and surprise. We need to put a premium on those who seek and embrace adaptability as an imperative.
Leader development in these areas is our decisive edge. How we do that starts one person at a time, one engagement at a time. It is how we invest our own example, experience, and talents directly and personally in others.
It is essential that each of us—regardless of how many stars, bars, or stripes we wear—commits to mentor on an individual and consistent basis. This is one of the most fundamental ways that we can accelerate and reinforce the learning process.
Leaders Are Readers
We need leaders who are lifelong learners and creative thinkers. That is why I encourage our men and women to continue to study and develop a sense of perspective. It is also why I always have at least three books on my nightstand to stretch my views. Reading helps us to stay rooted in the past, understand the present, and have a vision for the future. Said another way, if you seek a new idea, find an old book.
Lifelong learning is more than reading. In fact, sometimes we need to put down the book, if only to think about what we have read. We have to continue broadening perspectives, challenging assumptions, and cultivating inquisitive minds. One of history’s most creative minds, Albert Einstein, said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” I believe we have this passionate curiosity in our ranks today. We see it in our men and women striving to understand the context of current conf licts. Our task is to continue to nurture, build, and inspire this curiosity.
We have an opportunity to channel these attributes into innovative solutions to our biggest security challenges around
the world. We cannot afford to stagnate or to accept failure of imagination. We should always seek to challenge ourselves and our minds, lest our enemies imagine a different, more dangerous future for us.
Lead Always, but Use Words Only When Absolutely Necessary
The future will be a difficult journey and one that we cannot take alone. Growing relationships is one of the tools in our leadership toolbox that we should reach for early and often. If we wait until a crisis, we risk being too late.
When leaders value, grow, and institutionalize relationships—between leaders and led, within the family, and on the international stage—the results are always better.
Words matter in every relationship, and in fact, I have found that the higher you climb the ladder, the more important it is to choose words carefully and with precision. Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Communicating is not limited to language. This is where deeds trump talk and actions speak over messages. This is where we have to work at it—consistently. We cannot just e-mail or phone these things in. We need to meet face to face. Most of us can start relationships, but we must also build and sustain them to be effective and meaningful.
Trust Is the Foundation of Our Profession
Ours is a profession that requires trust of the highest order—in each other, in the leaders appointed over us, and in our fellow citizens. Without it, our men and women would never leave their base camps, strap into a cockpit, man the deck of an aircraft carrier, or go beneath the waves.
From a broader perspective, trust is fundamental to operational success. This lesson of history has been reinforced in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are seeking to match
this timeless insight to the changing character of warfare by rearticulating command and control as mission command.
Mission command is not a matter of rhetoric. As we decentralize authority, capability, and responsibility to the operational edge, we place a corresponding emphasis on mutual trust. Our paradigm for leader development also needs to prepare our men and women to accept this responsibility.
It is a charge that goes beyond the joint force to building teams among our interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners. Mutual trust does not work without their confidence that we are trustworthy teammates.
Trust also binds us with the American people we represent. They place great confidence in their armed forces. They—and those we lead—trust us to be leaders of character and consequence. It is up to each of us to
honor their trust. It is up to all of us to commit to develop the leader after next. JFQ
MARTIN E. DEMPSEY
General, U.S. Army
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff