Jake Trent

Callsign Chaos

I heard Jim Mattis be interviewed by Peter Robinson. It was a great interview. I was impressed with Secretary Mattis, and the book sounded intriguing.

I ended up reading it quickly. It was very engaging.

He had many pithy nuggets of wisdom concerning leadership. I pasted a bunch below.

I’m grateful for the dedication and readiness that Secretary Mattis showed in preparing himself for numerous posts in the service of our country.

His book explores many of the episodes of his career, including many of the theatres of war that this country has been involved in over the past 40 years.

I’m inspired to be a better leader because of what Secretary Mattis is committed to. He believes in pushing responsibility to the lowest level of capacity. I love that. Share your vision, what he calls commanders intent – where are we going and why – and then let implementers respond to situations on the ground. Effectiveness goes up. Efficiency goes up. Creativity for better solutions is called upon. And everyone who serves with the commander is inspired to do their best for the mission. He hits this again and again in the book, which, in my opinion, really makes it a leadership book worth the read.

Some great quotes that I collected out of it:

Slowly but surely, we learned there was nothing new under the sun: properly informed, we weren’t victims—we could always create options.

“We don’t get to choose when we die,” he said. “But we do choose how we meet death.”

more interested in living life fully than in their own longevity.

You make mistakes, or life knocks you down; either way, you get up and get on with it. You deal with life. You don’t whine about it.

Our community of seventeen thousand engineers, technicians, construction workers, and merchants had been shaped by the trials of the Depression and World War II—hardworking, civic-minded, family-oriented, and patriotic.

It was a simpler time back then, with a stronger sense of trust in one’s fellow Americans.

no matter what happened, I wasn’t a victim; I made my own choices how to respond. You don’t always control your circumstances, but you can always control your response.

work out with the most physically fit and learn from the most tactically cunning.

if I wanted my troops to follow me, I had to be as tough as my toughest men.

The first is competence. Be brilliant in the basics. Don’t dabble in your job; you must master it.

Anything that doesn’t contribute to winning battles or winning Marines is of secondary importance.

Third, conviction. This is harder and deeper than physical courage. Your peers are the first to know what you will stand for and, more important, what you won’t stand for.

As an officer, you need to win only one battle—for the hearts of your troops. Win their hearts and they will win the fights.

IF YOU WANT AN ELITE FORCE, selection is critical.

The Marine philosophy is to recruit for attitude and train for skills.

We searched for intangible character traits: a quest for adventure, a desire to serve with the elite, and the intention to be in top physical condition.

in harmonious, effective units, everyone owns the unit mission.

It was our mission, never my mission.

If you as the commander define the mission as your responsibility, you have already failed.

You don’t control your subordinate commanders’ every move; you clearly state your intent and unleash their initiative.

It’s all about clear goals and effective coaching.

There’s a huge difference between making a mistake and letting that mistake define you, carrying a bad attitude through life.

Partial commitment changes everything—it reduces the sense that the mission comes first.

From my first days, I had been taught that the Marines were satisfied only with 100 percent commitment from us and were completely dissatisfied with 99 percent.

You can’t have an elite organization if you look the other way when someone craps out on you.

“If at any time you can’t meet the quota, call and I’ll send somebody to help you.”

I aggressively delegated tasks to the lowest capable level.

I made sure missions were clearly understood. Ethics and honesty held everyone to the same standard.

A recruiter was evaluated on the performance of his candidates.

“I’ll tell you what leadership is,” he said. “It’s persuasion and conciliation and education and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know.”

I’d just received a blunt education about any unit commander’s role as the sentinel for his unit: You cannot allow your unit to be caught flat-footed. Don’t be myopically focused on your organization’s internal workings

Use your aggressive initiative according to his intent.

you need to make sure that your training is so hard and varied that it removes complacency and creates muscle memory—instinctive reflexes—within a mind disciplined to identify and react to the unexpected.

ensure that they are in the same unit long enough to know their brothers and develop trust and confidence in one another.

rehearsal as they focus intently on the skills that will constitute their repertoire in battle.

“Men who are familiarized to danger meet it without shrinking; whereas troops unused to service often apprehend danger where no danger is.”

I’ve found this imaging technique—walking through what lies ahead, acclimating hearts and minds to the unexpected—an essential leadership tool.

Every commander and chief executive officer needs tools to scan the horizon for danger or opportunities. Juliets proved invaluable to me by providing a steady stream of dispassionate information.

If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.

For instance, you may say, “We will attack that bridge in order to cut off the enemy’s escape.” The critical information is your intent, summed up in the phrase “in order to.” If a platoon seizes the bridge and cuts off the enemy, the mission is a success. But if the bridge is seized while the enemy continues to escape, the platoon commander will not sit idly on the bridge. Without asking for further orders, he will move to cut off the enemy’s escape.

Such aligned independence is based upon a shared understanding of the “why” for the mission. This is key to unleashing audacity.

provide only what is necessary to achieve a clearly defined end state:

Leave the “how” to your subordinates, who must be trained and rewarded for exercising initiative, taking advantage of opportunities and problems as they arise.

The details you don’t give in your orders are as important as the ones you do. With all hands aligned to your goals, their cunning and initiative unleashed,

Subordinate commanders cannot seize fleeting opportunities if they do not understand the purpose behind an order.

If a commander expects subordinates to seize fleeting opportunities under stress, his organization must reward this behavior in all facets of training, promoting, and commending.

This acting without orders, in anticipation of orders, or without waiting for approval yet always within the overall intention, must become second nature in any form of warfare.”

Examine your coaching and how well you articulate your intent. Remember the bottom line: imbue in them a strong bias for action.

If an organization gets the behavior it rewards, promoting warriors fit for war is where the rubber hits the road.

learning and mastering your job must never stop.

“There is a gift,” Napoleon wrote in his memoirs, “of being able to see at a glance the possibilities offered by the terrain….

As Churchill noted, “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

mastering your chosen vocation means you are ready when opportunity knocks.

But doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

History gives us ample precedents for making decisions at the speed of relevance.

I believe in a centralized vision, coupled with decentralized planning and execution

Wars, like hurricanes, recur without advance warning.

If you want the fewest big regrets when surprise strikes, you must provide, ahead of time, the doctrine and resources to respond.

Operations occur at the speed of trust.

Attitudes are caught, not taught.

I’m an opportunistic learner. I may not have come up with many new ideas, but I’ve adopted or integrated a lot from others.

In an age when cynicism too often passes for critical thinking, it’s worthwhile to remember that young men and women who sign up for the military still fight for ideals.

To expect success every time is wishful thinking, but we should default to supporting commanders who move boldly against the enemy.

When things go wrong, a leader must stand by those who made the decision under extreme pressure and with incomplete information.

Uncertainty runs riot if you don’t keep cool.

digital technologies can falsely encourage remote staffs to believe they possess a God’s-eye view of combat.

the fog of war can actually thicken when misinformation is instantly amplified.

Trust. That’s what held us together.

The more trust there is inside a unit, the more strain that unit can withstand without a lot of discussion.

improvise, adapt, and overcome

“It is not the young man who misses the days he does not know,” Marcus Aurelius wrote. “It is the living who bear the pain of those missed days.”

If we needed “new ideas” to help us construct our plan, old books were full of them.

A senior leader in any organization must recognize when his environment has changed. I adapted my touchstones accordingly.

Civilization progresses, Homer taught us, only when the strongest nations and armies respect the dignity of the weakest.

Great nations don’t get angry; military action should be undertaken only to achieve specific strategic effects.

a man who kept cool in the worst circumstances and responded to adversity with roguish irony.

By constant repetition, the false allegations acquired plausibility.

I was reporting our increasing progress, but that truth was submerged beneath enemy propaganda.

You don’t order your men to attack and risk death, and then go wobbly, stopping the attack and allowing the enemy to resupply and to recover his fighting spirit.

They were spinning in a circle, without a strategic compass to keep them pointed in a consistent direction.

whether you’re a general or a CEO, win or lose, you have to fight a false narrative or it will assuredly be accepted as fact.

If there’s something you don’t want people to see, you ought to reconsider what you’re doing.

As Churchill noted, “A lie gets halfway around the world before truth gets its pants on.”

Our young men had to harden their hearts to kill proficiently, without allowing indifference to noncombatant suffering to form a callus on their souls. I had to understand the light and the dark competing in their hearts, because we needed lads who could do grim, violent work without becoming evil in the process, lads who could do harsh things yet not lose their humanity

Building trust and affection in units is not the same as chasing popularity, which relies on favoritism, nor does it replace the priority of accomplishing the mission.

“The situation [on the chessboard] provided a cue; this cue has given the chess master access to information stored in his memory; and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.”

Regardless of rank or occupation, I believe that all leaders should be coaches at heart.

“player-coach” aptly describes the role of a combat leader, or any real leader.

“It is by virtue of the spoken word rather than by the sight or any other medium that men in combat gather courage from the knowledge that they are being supported by others….Speech galvanizes the desire to work together. It is the beginning of the urge to get something done.”

In an age when so many think they must guard their every word for fear of career-ending repercussions, the Marine Corps stood with me.

We had no birthright to victory; we had to outthink this enemy.

There will come another big war, as there will come another big hurricane, and if we want to deter it, we can do so only from strength.

I also knew that our Achilles’ heel was overconfidence in uninterrupted communications. In a future war, these communications are certain to be broken.

“In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood,” he said, “no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”

“We’re too old to be surprised,” Abizaid said. “Adjust to it.”

I spoke out strongly against that mood. Attitudes are caught, not taught.

As long as the population lived in fear and kept silent about the insurgents among them, the war would go on.

“This enemy has decided that the war will be fought in the narrative, in the media. If we don’t have people like you [reporters] committed [to factual reporting], trying to figure out the complexities of this war and…put it in terms their audience can understand, then we lose the moral high ground with the global audience.”

In the morally bruising environment of war, we still hold our Marines to the highest moral standards. Discipline is our protective fabric.

“Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease in this account to be moral beings, responsible for one another and to God.”

There’s a profound difference between a mistake and a lack of discipline. Mistakes are made when you’re trying to carry out a commander’s intent and you screw up in the pressure of the moment.

“Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the face of an uplifted knife.”

Our way is right, but it is also difficult.

History is compelling; nations with allies thrive; those without them die.

Whether we liked it or not, we were part of the world and needed allies, for our benefit as much as theirs.

the military does not accept “difficult” as an excuse for failing at anything.

Political agreement on the purpose must be the first priority.

On the battlefield, strength comes with unity of effort and a strong spirit of collaboration.

not all good ideas come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers

“Your staff resents you,” I said. “You’re disappointed in their input. Okay. But your criticism makes that input worse, not better. You’re going the wrong way. You cannot allow your passion for excellence to destroy your compassion for them as human beings.”

a lack of energy and initiative, resulting from a process-driven culture.

Entropy prevailed; process had replaced output.

I knew I had to be persuasive. Sovereign nations do not take kindly to being ordered around.

But as President Lyndon Johnson put it, it’s far better having people inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

“Only the dead have seen the last of war.”

Conviction doesn’t mean you should not change your mind when circumstance or new information warrant it. A leader must be willing to change and make change.

It’s easy to get into a bureaucratic rut where things are done a certain way because they’re done a certain way.

Every few months, a leader has to step back and question what he and his organization are doing.

Friends who share enduring historical values are needed as much today as when we stood united against fascism and communism.

We must remember we are engaged in an experiment called democracy, and experiments can fail in a world still largely hostile to freedom.

we are engaged in an experiment called democracy, and experiments can fail in a world still largely hostile to freedom.

The idea of American democracy, as inspiring as it is, cannot stand without the support of like-minded nations.

“There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them!”

Culture is a way of life shared by a group of people—how they act, what they believe, how they treat one another, and what they value.

By prescribing such minutiae from the top down, the actual culture of the organization contradicted its own declarations and stifled any kind of real initiative.

Initiative has to be practiced daily, not stifled, if it’s to become a reality inside a culture. Every institution gets the behavior it rewards.

“Adaptation is smarter than you are.” The enemy is certain to adapt to our first move.

“The leader must learn to cut to the heart of a situation, recognize its decisive elements and base his course of action on these.

It is essential that all leaders—from subaltern to commanding general—familiarize themselves with the art of clear, logical thinking.”

PowerPoint is the scourge of critical thinking.

They had to be capable of articulating necessary options or consequences, even when unpopular. They must give their military advice straight up, not moderating it. Avoid what George Kennan called “the treacherous curtain of deference.” Don’t be political.

As Secretary Shultz had said before Congress, to do our jobs well, we should not want our job too much.

Commanders must encourage intellectual risk taking to preclude a lethargic environment.

Leaders must shelter those challenging nonconformists and mavericks who make institutions uncomfortable; otherwise you wash out innovation.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

I consider myself the most reluctant person on earth to go to war. But once at war, our field commanders must be given what they need without delay.

a call from the field is not an interruption of the daily routine; it’s the reason for the daily routine.

When you’re going to a gunfight, bring all your friends with guns.

have never been on a crowded battlefield, and there is always room for those who want to be there alongside us.

Are my manners deteriorating? Was I becoming an impatient tyrant rather than a coach? The tougher the situation, the more I needed to choose to set a calm example, not allowing long hours and wicked issues to dictate my behavior around a team doing their utmost.

In our military, lack of time to reflect is the single biggest deficiency in senior decision-makers.

“The only thing that allows government to work at the top levels,” he said, “is trusted personal relations.”

encouraged them to use their initiative, keeping me informed following my mantra “What do I know? Who needs to know? Have I told them?”

visualization or “imaging” is a critical team-building skill in any command, especially in an age when we anticipate that our communications could be disrupted by the enemy.

In keeping with George Washington’s approach to leadership, I would listen, learn, and help, then lead.

“hand-con” became the order of the day, with handshakes cementing trust.

America’s lack of strategy in setting priorities that would earn their trust resulted in a growing sense that we were proving unreliable.

He exuded the confidence of a man whose mind was made up, perhaps even indifferent to considering the consequences were he judging the situation incorrectly.

A wise leader must deal with reality and state what he intends, and what level of commitment he is willing to invest in achieving that end.

Rules of engagement are what separate principled militaries from barbarians and terrorists. At the same time, a democracy, no matter how high-minded, has a moral obligation to ensure that its soldiers are permitted—no, encouraged—to effectively carry out their appointed task of closing with and destroying the enemy.

When the brass lose influence over their troops because their rules are out of touch, the discipline that binds all ranks together is undercut.

If a democracy does not trust its troops, then it shouldn’t go to war.

As Dr. Kissinger had taught me years before, we should never tell our adversary what we will not do.

My thought was that “exiting” a war was a by-product of winning that war.

But in conditions of high uncertainty, you must develop alternatives that may or may not come into play: always keep an ace in the hole.

never having only one course of action to achieve your aims.

Of all the countries I’ve dealt with, I consider Pakistan to be the most dangerous, because of the radicalization of its society and the availability of nuclear weapons.

“The Muslim religion isn’t the barrier to progress here,” he said. “The problem is a whole culture that rejects Western concepts of playing by the rules and cooperating with each other.”

Decades of violence, ruin, and uncertainty meant that nobody believed in tomorrow.

After a rebellion, however, power tends to flow to those most organized, not automatically to the most idealistic.

Rebellions, no matter how idealistic in origin, can as often as not produce chaos that often leads to tyranny.

“What is good in this case cannot be effected. We have, therefore, only to find out what will be least bad.”

When we go abroad, our noblest instinct—to champion democracy—must be guided by prudence and humility: as difficult as it is to understand our own political life at times, hoping for a full understanding of another country’s politics is outright fanciful.

“We love Americans, and we hate your foreign policy.”

I think Americans are subject to more lectures about our shortcomings than any other people, because more is expected of us.

“Your Highness,” I finally interrupted, “my loyalty is absolute to my country and my Commander in Chief, President Obama. I will not agree by silence when they are criticized. I’m here to help ensure the security of your kingdom. I carry out the last six hundred meters of American policy. Believe me, I know how to do that, and I will do that. Where our interests overlap, your problems are my problems. And I’m here looking for the overlap so I can help.”

When tensions develop between friends, extraordinary effort must be made to keep those friends close.

It had become too clear that I was supposed to sit quietly in the back of the bus as it careened off a strategic cliff.

Expecting countries with no democratic tradition, only recently coming out from under the yoke of colonialism, to embrace democracy at the level demanded by some in Washington was based on a wholly unrealistic view about the pace of cultural change.

Pushing change too fast could result in total chaos;

If I wanted them to listen to me, I had to respect their dignity in public. But I’m known for blunt speaking, and I was very blunt—in private.

Public humiliation does not change our friends’ behavior or attitudes in a positive way.

America has two fundamental powers: the power of intimidation toward our adversaries and the power of inspiration toward our friends and like-minded people everywhere.

planning for certitude is the most grievous of all…mistakes.”

You’re not the sentinel for your unit if you don’t react to warning signals as clear as that one.

While I fully endorse civilian control of the military, I would not surrender my independent judgment.

While I had the right to be heard on military matters, my judgment was only advice, to be accepted or ignored. I obeyed without mental reservation our elected Commander in Chief and carried out every order to the best of my ability.

lacking a defined mission statement, I frequently didn’t know what I was expected to accomplish.

“If the strategy be wrong, the skill of the general on the battlefield, the valor of the soldier, the brilliancy of victory, however otherwise decisive, fail of their effect.”

“Men make history; history doesn’t make the man.”

Acting strategically requires that political leaders make clear what they will stand for and what they will not stand for. We must mean what we say, to both allies and foes: no more false threats or failing to live up to our word.

History presents many examples of militaries that forgot that their purpose was to fight and win.

“Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it,” Aristotle wrote. “People come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players, by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just. By doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled, and by doing brave acts, we become brave.”

Our military exists to deter wars and to win when we fight.

No one is exempt from studying warfighting and lethality as the dominant metric, and nothing that decreases the lethality of our forces should be forced on a military that will go into harm’s way.

“It is not a good fancy,” said the lama. “What profit to kill men?” “Very little—as I know,” [the old soldier replied,] “but if evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers.”

If we’re not on the front line, then we’re supporting the nineteen-year-old infantryman who is.

While I could take some satisfaction that I’d met the standard of promotion, I believed I could not do my job well if I lost touch with those on the front lines who carried out orders at the point of danger.

there’s no substitute for constant study to master one’s craft.

Living in history builds your own shock absorber, because you’ll learn that there are lots of old solutions to new problems

“Commander’s intent” has a special meaning in the military that requires time and thought. A commander must state his relevant aim. Intent is a formal statement in which the commander puts himself or herself on the line. Intent must accomplish the mission, it has to be achievable, it must be clearly understood, and at the end of the day, it has to deliver what the unit was tasked with achieving.

Your moral authority as a commander is heavily dependent on the quality of this guidance and your troops’ sense of confidence in it: the expectation that they will use their initiative, aligning subordinate actions.

Speed is essential, whether in sports, business, or combat, because time is the least forgiving, least recoverable factor in any competitive situation.

my coaching style exhibited confidence in juniors I knew were ready to take charge.

I had to build awareness and trust above me.

reducing reports and getting out more to see units on their turf—essential to building trust.

High morale is reflected by the absence of self-pity.

When I fight an enemy, my frontline troops quickly sense enemy strengths and weaknesses.

While processes are boring to examine, leaders must know their own well enough that they can master them and not be mastered, even derailed, by them.

by reducing the size of headquarters staffs, we reduced demands for information flow from subordinate units, which could then principally focus on the enemy rather than answering higher headquarters’ queries.

any competitive organization must nurture its maverick thinkers. You can’t wash them out of your outfit if you want to avoid being surprised by your competition. Without mavericks, we are more likely to find ourselves at the same time dominant and irrelevant, as the enemy steals a march on us.

Risk aversion will damage the long-term health, even survival, of the organization, because it will undercut disciplined but unregimented thinking.

Because maverick thinkers are so important to an organization’s adaptability, high-ranking leaders need to be assigned the job of guiding and even protecting them, much as one would do for any endangered species.

the significant authority granted to military officers requires officers to practice command over themselves,

It should be a source of pride for all Americans that if we have an “empire,” it has been an empire of ideas and ideals sufficient to draw many like-minded nations to our side.

The growth in global wealth and the freedoms enjoyed by so many since 1945 were the direct results of America’s willingness to lead.

We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.

how unimportant are many of the things back home that can divide us if we let them.

I believe that I and all Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment—and one that can be reversed. I’m all for vigorous debate and vociferous disagreements, grounded in consistent democratic principles and mutual respect.

We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism need not disrupt our experiment.