We Leadership by Paul Otte

Ross Leadership Institute Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0986215902, 288 pp. $20.95.

Leadership is an important and compelling topic as well as a difficult concept and practice, as evidenced by numerous academic writings and popular books focused more on individual leaders and their successes than on the organizations they lead (and the failures that they go through before becoming successful).

This book is a refreshing and important contribution to the writings on leadership. It is one that goes beyond the popular success stories and challenges academic notions of leaders and leadership. In doing so, it provides the grounds for further research on the importance of teams, organization, and the “we” mentality—embedded perhaps nowhere more than in the Marine Corps—and illuminates practical examples and behaviors useful for understanding the dynamics underlying the links between leadership, initiative, and innovation and teaching future generations of “we leaders” as well as “we organizations.”

Why is “we leadership” important? Dr. Otte discusses some of the rhetorical, semantic, and psychological underpinnings of the idea of replacing “me” with “we” and how this can help to foster organizational benefits such as retention, morale, initiative, and work satisfaction. He discusses four cases of organizations exhibiting “we” thinking and leadership: the U.S. Marine Corps, the Ohio Wesleyan soccer team, Donatos Pizza, and Worthington Industries; and through their examples, he provides suggestions on how organizations can build more of a we mentality—through recognizing, rewarding, and engaging their people. Even in the chapters not about the Marine Corps per se, Dr. Otte’s background in (and passion for) the Corps and its values come through. The book also has a set of additional appendices and suggestions for how to develop a we-leadership- and maneuver-based philosophy and culture within organizations.

Marines are, of course, familiar with the tales and practices of leaders who put others before themselves, exemplified, for instance, in the story about Gen James N. Mattis taking duty so that other Marines could be with their families during the holidays or in the practice of “officers eat last”—stories and practices that help motivate, inspire, and mentor future generations.

There is something important here for the rest of the world to learn, as the we mentality can have quite important organizational benefits for the long-term adaptations and innovations of an organization. Most organizations, as they age and grow, have difficulties remaining innovative, as many mechanisms and dynamics work against the effort (e.g., the growth of individual and organizational inertias). Rules and bureaucracies, while often necessary for managing an organization, tend to suffocate creativity and the ability to change, and leave little room for different or disruptive thinking. Organizations can also be stuck in what scholars call a competency or success trap; doing what they are good at tends to reinforce continuing specialization. For organizations to survive and adapt in the long run, they need to develop a capability to experiment, disrupt, and explore new ways of thinking and doing. There are many organizational and strategic parts to the story of maintaining adaptability, and the ideas and practices of we leadership are an important part of the puzzle. For example, the de-emphasis of hierarchy can help to unleash initiative and insight throughout the organization. A we mentality also can help encourage a long-term perspective (thinking about what is good for the team and the organization in the long run, not just for individual members short term).

Intangible values most embedded in one’s identity, culture, and tradition can be the most difficult to articulate and recognize. Business people might find this book relevant for discussions of traits and characteristics of we leaders and we leadership organizations that would be truly useful for their organizations, (topics they don’t always have or find, probably at least in part because of their heavy emphasis on “me,” not “we,” in most business school theories and curricula). Marines might find the book particularly valuable, as Dr. Otte elaborates the concept of we leadership, and the examples he provides can help Marines to (re)appreciate the importance of some quite unique core values embedded in their organization, tradition, history, and practices—ones that will hopefully live on.

The book is an excellent complement and companion reading to the author’s previous book, written with Gen Alfred M. Gray, Vantage Leadership, as well as the collection of “Gray-isms,” which, shortly before his passing, Dr. Otte put together. Together, they provide important grounds for understanding the uniqueness of leadership and the we mentality in the Marine Corps and its history, and it will, hopefully, help to educate future generations of leaders in other organizations as well.


The Pentagon's Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents by Mark Perry

New York: Basic Books, 2017. ISBN-10: 0465079717. ISBN-13: 978-0465079711. $17.60

The subtitle of Mark Perry’s book is a misnomer. The majority of The Pentagon’s Wars illustrates the dynamics of decision making between successive Secretaries of Defense, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Service Chiefs, and combatant commanders from DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM to the present day. The only members of the military who have conducted an “undeclared war” against civilian authority are the handful of general officers in the book that Perry clearly dislikes.

The most striking example of Perry’s partiality is his portrayal of former CMC Gen Carl E. Mundy, Jr., as being disloyal to President William J. Clinton because he did not support his policy of gays in the military. Though Perry acknowledges that the entire JCS “disagreed with Clinton’s policy shift,” Perry frames Gen Mundy as being “a traditionalist” whose thinking was “from another era.” Worse, Perry engages in innuendo to attack Gen Mundy’s character, making statements such as, “Of all of the [Service] chiefs, it was Mundy who was most likely to have used the phrase ‘gay-loving’ to describe Clinton,” while acknowledging that no one knows who actually used that phrase. In my opinion, Perry engages in character assassination of Gen Mundy. Perry also has some vitriol for JCS Chairman GEN Colin Powell, USA, and President George W. Bush.

Perry does a good job of giving the reader an overview of the decision making at the national policy and the strategic level that has been conducted from DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM to the present day, as well as the results of that decision making. However, given Perry’s biases for and against certain individuals, a reader would be better served to read one of the many excellent histories and memoirs that have come out of America’s wars since the First Persian Gulf War instead of The Pentagon’s Wars.