Review from Arches alumni magazine, Spring 2009
The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell
Edited by Harry S. Laver and Jeffrey J. Matthews
296 pages, hardcover
The University Press of Kentucky, 2008
Harry Laver and Jeff Matthews confess in the introduction to The Art of Command their agreement with the assertion of noted presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns that “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on Earth.” However, they allow that we’ve come a long way toward understanding in the three decades since Burns penned the line. Surely this book has advanced the scholarship substantially.
Laver, associate professor of military history at Southwestern Louisiana University, and Matthews, director of Puget Sound’s Business Leadership Program, have gathered nine essays, each of which matches a renowned military leader with a vital characteristic of great leadership: integrity, vision, determination, charisma, adaptability, understanding of institutions and cultures, and openness to new technology. While the leaders profiled all possess most if not all of these characteristics, the essays intend to highlight a trait the leader most clearly exemplifies. Thus, George Washington is held up as a beacon of integrity and Ulysses S. Grant, in an essay authored by Laver, is singled out for his famed determination.
The big surprise in the collection is the piece by Matthews on Colin Powell, whom Matthews calls an exemplary follower, an attribute we don’t often consider as part of leadership. And a common thread through the nine essays is that great leaders are not simply born with a knack. Leadership requires learning, ambition, hard work, and, most important, good mentors and role models along the way.