Book excerpt: “Call Sign Chaos” by Jim Mattis and Bing West

In this excerpt from the new book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” (Random House), Marine Corp General and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his co-author Bing West write about what is needed to lead and to be a mentor.

Don’t miss David Martin’s interview with Gen. Mattis on “CBS Sunday Morning” September 1!

Random House

The Art of Leading

My warfighting style simply represents the Marine Corps way of war. It stems from a Corps that cannot stomach defeat, even when landed on hostile shores with the enemy to the front and the ocean at its back. It’s a naval force limited in its fighting philosophy to what the ships can carry, so it cannot rely on overwhelming numbers or heavy equipment. It’s a force that integrates skill, courage, cunning, and initiative into its own form of maneuver warfare, maneuver that takes form in the intellectual, physical, and spiritual realms.

It’s well known among Marines that our greatest honor is fighting alongside our fellow sailors and Marines. I know that our soldiers, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen feel the same. No Marine is ever alone – he carries with him the spirit passed down from generations before him. Group spirit – that electric force field of emotion – infuses and binds warriors together. If we’re not on the front line, then we’re supporting the nineteen-year-old infantryman who is. The Corps recognizes that its success comes ultimately from those on the leading edge. This was the reason I felt misgivings upon each promotion. 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.

To turn this broader Marine philosophy of fighting into my own authentic leadership style, I drew upon historical influences and the Vietnam veterans whose experiences imparted a healthy dose of reality. I had been shaped and sharpened by the rough whetstone of those veterans, mentored by sergeants and captains who had slogged through rice paddies and jungles, fighting a tough enemy every foot of the way. I learned then and I believe now that everyone needs a mentor or to be a mentor – and that no one needs a tyrant. At the same time, 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. If you haven’t read hundreds of books, learning from others who went before you, you are functionally illiterate – you can’t coach and you can’t lead. History lights the often dark path ahead; even if it’s a dim light, it’s better than none. If you can’t be additive as a leader, you’re just like a potted plant in the corner of a hotel lobby: you look pretty, but you’re not adding substance to the organization’s mission.

Excerpted from “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” by Jim Mattis and Bing West. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright 2019 by James N. Mattis and Francis J. West.

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