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Book Reviews

Leadership: The Warrior’s Art

Edited by Christopher Kolenda
Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Army War College Foundation Press, 2001
437 pages, US $13.97

Reviewed by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter J. Williams

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It sometimes pays to read the fine print. I was able to find this ‘not-so-little’ gem referred to in a footnote in an article about US Army Transformation. The book’s editor, Major Kolenda, is a US Army cavalry officer by training, and he has also taught military history at the United States Military Academy in West Point.

In producing this book, the editor has sought to educate leaders. In Kolenda’s words: “Its goal is to generate reflection, provoke thought and inspire passion for further study.” His basic premise is that leadership is Book coverbest studied from three perspectives: theory, history and the experiences of others.

As editor, Kolenda has amassed a series of some nineteen essays, including three of his own, by a cast of various writers, many of whom are serving or retired US Army officers, as well as representatives from the academic world and the private sector. The book is divided into three parts, which Kolenda has structured to support his thesis:

  • Part 1: Ancient and Modern Concepts of Leadership
  • Part 2: Historical Case Studies
  • Part 3: Contemporary Experiences and Reflections on Leadership

This is a well-researched book. The Notes section runs in excess of fifty pages and contains extensive references of further works in this field. The essays in Part 1 are easy to read, and the authors successfully resist the temptation to become overly technical – as can often happen in theoretical discussions of leadership and human behaviour. That being said, one author does put forward a chart proposing a system whereby cohesion may be instilled in a unit, which may be a bit excessive.

The case studies in Part 2 have been well chosen. Some of the less stellar moments in US Army history are discussed, including the circumstances surrounding the relief of many battlefield commanders by General Pershing during the First World War. Further, the need for a so-called “moral compass” in all militaries is highlighted in a study of German performance during the Second World War.

If any criticism of this book is warranted, it is that it is overly ‘Army-centric’ at the expense of the discussion of leadership in the air, maritime or joint-force environments. That said, while the historical case studies include an essay on the controversial US General Curtis Lemay, who led the B-29 firebombing raids over Japan during the Second World War, there is no discussion whatsoever of leadership at sea.

It is also written entirely from the American perspective, and might have benefited from a wider, international authorship, particularly in its discussion of “The Tactical Excellence of the German Army in World War Two” or “Soviet Operational Art” from 1917-1945.

In the final analysis, these two observations do not detract from what is overall an excellent study of the behaviour of leaders when placed in harm’s way. Kolenda also includes an essay on a hypothetical scenario situated in 2008, which US forces might well face, and where a domination of professional military knowledge could prove decisive. Leadership, from the follower’s perspective, is also examined, and, given the importance they are now playing in recent operations, leadership issues in the Special Forces are certainly not ignored.

One hopes that a future edition of this book will be updated to include a discussion of leadership in the so-called “War on Terror”. Given the experiences of several of our own senior Canadian Forces commanders in recent years, whether serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan or commanding an international naval task force, a Canadian perspective on contemporary operational leadership is both highly relevant and strongly warranted.

The essence of leadership, in Kolenda’s view, is to “...inspire the spirit and act of following, regardless of external circumstances”. This book provides a theoretical framework for how this might be done,presents cases where it has been done, and suggests how it could be accomplished in future. It is a highly recommended study of a timeless subject, particularly for those about to assume command.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Peter J. Williams is currently Director Land Force Readiness 5 (G3 Plans) at National Defence Headquarters.