Debunking myths about leadership.
Drawing largely on standard biographies, four-star general McChrystal (Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, 2015, etc.), former Navy Seal Eggers, and Marine Corps veteran Mangone offer lively, succinct profiles of 13 leaders from diverse fields with the goal of examining assumptions about leadership as well as “challeng[ing] traditional leadership models.” Structured to emulate Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, the book pairs leaders to compare and contrast their qualities: Walt Disney and Coco Chanel represent business founders; Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein, geniuses; French revolutionary Robespierre and Iraqi jihadi Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, zealots; 15th-century Chinese fleet commander Zheng He and 19th-century American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, heroes; New York politician “Boss” Tweed and Margaret Thatcher, power brokers; and Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., reformers. Confederate general Robert E. Lee, once “a symbol of stoic commitment to duty” whom McChrystal grew up admiring, merits a chapter of his own. Rather than devise a checklist of leadership traits, the authors ask why each individual emerged from their particular context as a leader: “What was it about the situation that made this style of leadership effective?” They dispel the idea of leadership “as a process-driven, action-oriented practice…of influencing a group toward some defined outcome.” Instead, they assert that leaders provide “a meaningful sense of direction” that is “clarifying and comforting.” In all cases, they see that to understand the power of a leader, “one must look away from the leader and toward the followers and institutions that enable them.” Leaders may be courageous and charismatic, but beyond those attributes, “they deliver something” that followers need or desire. Followers, therefore, must hold leaders accountable and “shape and confine their leaders’ styles.” Leadership, the authors maintain, cannot be reduced to a formula but “is contextual and dynamic” and “more about the symbolism, meaning, and future potential leaders hold for their system, and less about the results they produce.”
A convincing rebuttal of the “Great Man” theory of history.