Reading for Leading
We have heard it said over and over: Leaders are readers. Nye (1986) explains that this is the very premise of his book, The Challenge of Command: Reading for Military Excellence. According to the author, military commanders must be tacticians as well as strategists; they must be warriors and trainers; but they must also know enough to be able to discipline others and act as mentors. Commanders are moral leaders to boot (Nye). Hence, they must be knowledgeable enough to act as models for those that expect them to take their responsibilities seriously. After all, military officers are taking a leadership role over the nation. They are trained to protect the nation from attacks, from both within the nation and outside of it. Indeed, the military is indispensable. But, what if military officers have not been trained in ethics because they are high school diploma holders that never got enough time to read about the best leaders that humanity has seen? In recent years, the Abu Ghraib scandal has revealed to us the importance of holding military commanders responsible for unethical conduct, whenever and wherever it is seen. What if the military officers that were tried because of their sexual misbehavior at the Abu Ghraib prison had taken the Christ or the Buddha as a model instead of porn stars?
Military officers are trained to behave perfectly. If they do not know their responsibilities over the nation, they are not fit to protect the same nation that has granted them authority over others. The fact that military commanders are expected to be perfect is clearly revealed by the way a military officer is trained to stand erect, march forward, and hold his or her weapons in a way that is most suitable for the job at hand. But, what if the military commander knows how to conduct him- or herself perfectly before his or her own commander in chief; and still fails to protect the values of others, like the military officers responsible for the Abu Ghraib scandal? Nye is correct to state that military commanders must be well-read, indeed. Then again, the question is posed repeatedly: What should they read? Nye writes: “…[H]ow does one read to gain a vision or visions of himself? By reading biographies for the visions that others have had of themselves? By reading Shakespeare for the visions of fictitious heroes? By reading history? Psychological theory? Yes, all, probably (Nye 3).”
As mentioned previously, all military officers are leaders because they are given the job to protect the nation. They should not be joining the military just to get a scholarship after high school or rations for their kin. The emphasis on reading in Nye’s book even gets the reader to believe that hiring high school diploma holders as military officers is unethical, seeing that these officers are typically very young people who have not found enough time to become well-read, well-rounded individuals. People at that age are not even expected to know all the reasons for their decision to serve life.
The shared values of humanity proclaim the choice to serve life as the most desirable goal for a human being to have. No wonder, some of the greatest leaders in the history of humanity, such as the Buddha, the Christ, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. continue to inspire people to choose to serve life. Almost everybody that has heard of such leaders has also heard that there are few people that choose to lead like them. Organizational psychology refers to them as charismatic leaders (Javidan & Walman, 2003). Fortunately, with the research and information now available to us – thanks to globalization accompanied by the Internet Age – almost every leader may study charismatic leadership to incorporate the qualities of great stewards of humanity. This is, indeed, the main reason why Nye would like all military officers to become thoroughly knowledgeable persons. Knowing one’s vision is as important as knowing the call of one’s commander in the military.
Since Nye opens up the topic of reading without closing the areas of knowledge that the military officer may choose to be exposed to – in order to become an effective commander or leader – the military reader of Nye’s book is invited to explore any area of knowledge that may help him or her as a leader in the military. By learning that charismatic leaders are electrifying orators, for example, weak leaders may aim to perfect their verbal commands. But, they must also build their credibility – as do most charismatic leaders – by communicating and articulating why there is a need for a breakthrough and how it could be accomplished (Javidan & Waldman). According to Javidan & Waldman, charismatic leaders must explain the need for change by magnifying the principle forces that are driving the change, and articulating how and why the environmental changes would not accept the status quo. In addition, they must convince their followers that the sought breakthrough would be the best way to position the group within its situational context (Javidan & Walman).
In recent years, we have also seen both Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush fighting for the souls of humanity. According to the majority of people of the world, both leaders were responsible for shedding blood of countless innocent people. This is the reason why a charismatic leader must be considered credible for things to change in the direction that is truly desirable. Giving a gun to a military officer is not necessarily responsible behavior on the part of his or her commander. There are countless theories about what the military could have done better in Iraq. Undoubtedly, military commanders with greater knowledge would have been able to handle the job better. What has happened in Iraq is not only a shame for the civilized world, but also makes Nye’s theory more credible in the mind of the reader: it is truly a fact that knowledge leads to better outcomes. The commander in chief over the Iraq War, George W. Bush, had made a hasty decision going after weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; just as he could not find Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan. Indeed, better military strategies are possible to formulate with greater knowledge. After all, knowledge is light that even Osama bin Laden cannot escape.
Javidan, M., & Waldman, D. A. (2003, Mar/Apr). Exploring Charismatic Leadership in the
Public Sector: Measurement and Consequences. Public Administration Review, 63(2).
Nye, R. H. (1986). The Challenge of Command: Reading for Military Excellence. New York: