I was privileged to be among the lucky few who gathered yesterday at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to pay tribute to the men and women who have served in our military and are pursuing graduate degrees at the
After a warm welcome by the Dean of the
General Petraeus was introduced to us by Seth Moulton. A 2001 graduate of
David Gergen, Director of the Center for Public Leadership at KSG, moderated the session that featured General Petraeus responding to Gergen’s questions about the theme of the gathering: “21st Century Leadership – Lessons from the
Early in his remarks, Petraeus laid his cards on the table and revealed that he was in enemy territory in two regards; he is a Yankees fan and his Ph.D. is from
The General outlined four over-arching tasks that are essential for a strategic leader to master:
1) Get the big ideas right
2) Communicate those ideas effectively down the organizational chain of command
3) Oversee the execution of those ideas.
4) Capture lessons learned and best practices.
As he fleshed out how each of those four major points had developed during his time of leadership in
He emphasized how important it is for the leader to find a way for his people to embrace the big ideas – even if they are reluctant to do so. His phrase was: “Even if at first you have to hold their arms around the idea.” He told a marvelous story of how he helped a recalcitrant senior officer to embrace the concept of
He pointed out how crucial it was in
He spoke candidly about the need to tell the truth:“Be first with the truth.” He was told in the early days of the surge, “You have a messaging problem!” His retort was to say, “No, we have a success problem. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.”
He consistently reinforced seminal principles to his troops: Live your values. Exercise initiative. Learn and adapt. He showed a slide of what he calls “The Engine of Change” – a complex knowledge management system of systems that creates effective and immediate feedback mechanisms so that the lessons and best practices learned on the battlefield can be translated into policy and doctrine in a timely fashion.
A phrase that he repeated during the course of his remarks served for me as the capstone of his insights into military leadership in the 21st century: “You cannot kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency.”
We are fortunate to have a statesman, scholar, soldier calling the shots and leading the way at the helm of CENTCOM. He led the way yesterday in honoring Harvard’s men and women who have helped turn his big ideas into executable action on the ground.
Maura Sullivan just posted the video of yesterday’s event to Facebook:
An Op-Ed piece by Paula Broadwell in yesterday’s Boston Globe shares a personal perspective on General Petraeus’ leadership:
Pray for the men and women who continue to serve in implementing Petraeus’ “Big Ideas.”