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Bookshelf: Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Although a small and caring jab from his subordinates, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” describes the self-deprecating yet focused and demanding leadership style of someone who has helped chart the course of our nation.

Article by Col. Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR March 16, 2020 //   3 minute read

In writing “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” former U.S. Marine Corps General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis allows the reader a look into his storied career and the lessons learned along the way. To me, it revealed some common truths that we all can look to on our own journeys.

Leadership is a perishable skill that must be continually honed and developed as you face new challenges. You are only as good as your yesterday and tomorrow presents something new. This is presented to us along the framework of; direct leadership, executive leadership and finally strategic leadership. In essence how do you effectively lead when you no longer have direct contact with those in your charge and as you advance in your career the one common variable is the reign of complexity.

Mistakes will be made along the way and the core issues are:

Can you learn from them and does your organization have a tolerance for that learning to take place? Mattis shared, “Over the course of my career, every time I made a mistake – and I made many – the Marines promoted me. They recognized that those mistakes were part of my tuition and a necessary bridge to learning how to do things right.”

History matters. In an era of immediate access to almost infinite information at our fingertips, does this convey knowledge as well? As Mattis says, “We have been fighting on this planet for ten thousand years; it would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experience.” Reading allows for reflection, precedent, and context, all crucial aspects of leadership and problem solving.

Finally, after years of experience on the global stage, Mattis offers a fair warning to our America. Our experiment in democracy continues and its successful tomorrow is not a forgone conclusion, we must always fight for it. The “current malaise of tribalism” can and must be overcome by leaders of integrity at the national and local level who embody our motto “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.