Book Reviews

Deep Leadership Book Cover

Deep Leadership Book Cover

Deep Leadership Essential Insights from High-Risk Environments

by Joe MacInnis
Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2012
245 pages, $29.95 HC
ISBN 978-0-307-36110-3

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Reviewed by Bill Bentley

Dr. Joe MacInnis has written a powerful, inspiring book on leadership which, unlike many tomes on the subject, is eminently readable, even exciting. Dr. MacInnis is a Canadian, a physician, scientist, author, and motivational speaker who led the first science dives at the North Pole and built the world’s first polar undersea station. He was among the first to dive to the Titanic, and has worked with the US Navy, the Canadian Government, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and NASA. He has given keynote presentations on leadership to IBM, Microsoft, GE, National Geographic and the US Naval Academy. The author of ten books, his research has earned him six honorary degrees and the Order of Canada.

Deep Leadership has already received many accolades but two will suffice here to reinforce the message intended in this review. Lieutenant-General Hal Moore (USA ret’d), author of We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, describes it as part biography, part instruction manual; it is a unique introduction to a vital subject. A must read book. Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of The Upside of Down, tells us that his stories will give you goose bumps – and lessons in leadership you will never forget.

Two years ago, Vice-Admiral (ret’d) Larry Murray put Joe together with the author of this review at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute at the Canadian Defence Academy Headquarters in Kingston. With the support of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Institute arranged for Joe to go aboard HMCS Toronto in the Caribbean, and to travel to Afghanistan where, supported by then Brigadier-General Dean Milner, he went ‘outside the wire’ to interview a number of army and air force personnel. These interviews with both officers and NCOs, 42 in all, were then edited by Joe to produce the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute’s 30 minute leadership video – Warrior’s Honour. A number of those interviewed also make their way into the leadership story told in Deep Leadership.

Early in the book, Dr. MacInnis tells us that his vision of deep leadership is the ability to make critical decisions to accomplish challenging missions in the abysmal ocean, in outer space, and on the battlefield. Deep leadership, according to Joe, is radically different from business and political leadership. Make a leadership mistake working 4000 metres beneath the ocean, on the International Space Station, or during a military operation in Afghanistan, and you can lose more than money or jobs. You can lose lives – including your own. “That’s why I call it deep leadership.”

Joe reminds us that leadership is not about a rigid set of rules and standards, it is about relationships; it’s about the complex ways that people influence, inform and inspire each other. And in a refreshingly self-deprecating manner, he alerts us to the fact that his book, Deep Leadership, is not a science book written by a scientist about leadership. It is a series of observations from an “accidental leader of average intelligence.” It is a form of field guide on a subject that Joe feels has an infinite number of practitioners operating on many levels.

The book is essentially divided into two parts. In Part One Dr. MacInnis identifies what he calls twelve traits of deep leadership. But this is not a book based upon the Trait Theory of leadership. Many of the twelve could be better described as characteristics or behaviours. The twelve ‘traits’ are:

  • Cool Competence
  • Powerful Presentations
  • Physical Robustness
  • Hot Zone Humour
  • Mental resilience
  • Strategic Imagination
  • High-Empathy Communication
  • Blood Trust
  • Fierce Ingenuity
  • Team Genius
  • Resolute Courage
  • Warrior’s Honour

Joe then proceeds to illustrate these ‘traits’ by recounting factual, true stories of “deep” leaders, all of whom he has worked with, and many of whom are his good friends. In the pages that follow, we meet the likes of ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon; Scott Carpenter of Mercury fame; Jacques Cousteau; Julie Payette; Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space; Walter Cronkite; Captain Carol Bateman, padre of the 1 RCR Battle Group in Afghanistan; Romeo Dallaire; Petty Officer Second Class Kerry Houghton; James Cameron; and Major-General Mike Day, former Commander of Canada’s Special Operations Force.

Each of these encounters is stimulating, entertaining, and persuasive.

Part Two of the book turns to Dr. MacInnis’s personal advice with regard to how aspiring leaders, or even proven leaders wanting to get better, should proceed. Here, he speaks, not only on behalf of the dozens of deep leaders we have met in the book, but also of his own personal convictions with respect to the way forward to more effective leadership. Joe speaks compellingly about making the commitment, commanding the language, building a library, finding mentors, and seeking opportunities.

Canadian Forces leaders of all ranks will find much of value in this book and much to reinforce what they know and feel about CF leadership doctrine as it is prescribed in Leading People and Leading the Institution. Repeatedly, the deep leaders in the book refer to fighting spirit, teamwork, self-discipline, physical fitness, and stewardship. All place great emphasis upon what CF leadership doctrine codifies as the Core CF Values – Duty, Loyalty, Integrity, and Courage. Perhaps this is not surprising, since Dr. Joe MacInnis himself declares that “Military leadership is the fountainhead of all other forms of leadership.”

Deep Leadership should be made a ‘core’ text for all fourth-year RMC cadets, and a major text at the Joint Command and Staff Program at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. It should also be required reading for all NCOs taking the Intermediate Leadership Qualification Course at the NCM Professional Development Center in St. Jean, Quebec. 
Lieutenant-Colonel (ret’d) Bill Bentley, MSM, CD, PhD, a former infantry officer, is currently the Deputy Director of the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute at the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston, Ontario.