my latest read

Cover of "The Virtues of War: A Novel of ...
Cover via Amazon

I’m currently in the last third of Steven Pressfield’s The Virtues of War, which tells the story of Alexander the Great’s campaigns across Persia from the first-person perspective of Alexander himself.

I’ve written about Pressfield before and first became aware of him when I read The Gates of Fire, the historical fiction retelling of the Spartan stand against the Persians at Thermopylae. Pressfield, a former US Marine, has become sort of an authority on classic military history, the warrior, and leadership on the battlefield. His books routinely address the role of the leader, the human dynamic on the battlefield and what it is about combat that has captivated humans..mainly men..throughout our history. Since I’m reading it on a Kindle, I have been highlighting passages I find interesting with the intent of discussing some of them here. For example…

On decision making:

How is one to command? By consensus of his subordinates? Listen indeed. Weigh and evaluate. Then decide yourself. Are you stumped at the crossroads? Pick one way and don’t look back. Nothing is worse than indecision. Be wrong, but be wrong decisively. Can you please your constituents?  never let me hear that word! The men are never happy with anything. The march is always too long, the ways too rough. What works with them? Hardship. Give your men something that can’t be done, not something that can. Then place yourself at first hazard.

This sentiment is nothing new and I have heard/read similar in various places. I have to say that while I agree with it in general ( it IS the leaders job to make decisions), there are varying degrees of “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead!!” leadership.

I understand that in the context  of the book the decisions mentioned are battlefield decisions. The question is “How is one to COMMAND?” When lives are at stake and you are the leader, yes, indecision kills.

But to take the lesson from the war-room to the board-room, so to speak, the spirit of the passage, while still important, can be taken too far and turn you into a little Napoleon. Not every decision has to be a “Because I’m in charge and I say so” affair.  As anyone who has ever experienced a Second Lieutenant fresh out of ROTC can attest to, the pressures of leadership combined with inexperience can lead to interesting situations with the senior NCO’s who posses the experience but not the rank.

Personally, being in a leadership/supervisory role, I sometimes ask myself if I am being decisive enough, is this a situation where I need to take COMMAND, or would doing so only be because I feel like I should SHOW that I’m in charge vs actually accomplishing a goal? Sometimes the inner talk, self-expectations and wondering what others think are a greater leadership burden than the actual requirements of the job.

I think that the nack lies in knowing your mission first and foremost and doing what’s required to see that its accomplished. Sometimes that means knowing the difference between the decisions that need to be made immediately (take that pillbox or pass it?) and those that you can table and think over for a while.

3 thoughts on “my latest read”

  1. I’m interested in knowing what the book has to say about what it is about combat that is so captivating.

    An exceprt from a speech:

    “So why do people fight anyway? Perhaps the meaning of human existence lies within their will to fight. People feel a sense of accomplishment through battle. And it’s also a fact that the ones who are actually fighting are never perceived as being tainted.”

    youtube watch?v=hGl8Yq1EaX8

  2. I remember Gates of Fire and the issue of choice/risk/reward (is it worth it?) were big issues in that book as well.

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