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The Art of Command

Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell

Harry Laver

Publication Year: 2008

What essential leadership lessons do we learn by distilling the actions and ideas of great military commanders such as George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Colin Powell? That is the fundamental question underlying The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell. The book illustrates that great leaders become great through conscious effort—a commitment not only to develop vital skills but also to surmount personal shortcomings. Harry S. Laver, Jeffrey J. Matthews, and the other contributing authors identify nine core characteristics of highly effective leadership, such as integrity, determination, vision, and charisma, and nine significant figures in American military history whose careers embody those qualities. The Art of Command examines each figure’s strengths and weaknesses and how those attributes affected their leadership abilities, offering a unique perspective of military leadership in American history. Laver and Matthews have assembled a list of contributors from military, academic, and professional circles, which allows the book to encompass diverse approaches to the study of leadership.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

In March 1969, I, along with two dozen other young men, stumbled off a chartered bus in front of the white World War II–era barracks at Fort Lewis, Washington. Waiting for us and already barking orders was Drill Sergeant Mata. I had joined the United States Army. I was a volunteer, a private who planned to serve his three-year enlistment...

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pp. xv-xvi

The core concepts and framework for this book took meaningful shape in late spring 2005 when we participated in the National Security Forum at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. As a result, we would like to thank our sponsors at the Air War College, Lieutenant Colonel J. J. Lamers and Captain Bill Hendrickson. We...

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pp. 1-10

Few people would challenge the assertion by presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns that “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”1 Yet, in the three decades since the publication of Burns’s seminal work Leadership, our understanding of the leadership process has improved tremendously.

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1. Integrity and Leadership: George Washington

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pp. 11-32

In March 1783, when peace negotiations with Great Britain were under way and the end of the Revolutionary War was in sight, the American army faced one of its greatest crises. The restless officers of the Continental Army believed they had endured enough hardship. Their pay was in arrears, as usual, and their accounts had not been...

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2. Determination and Leadership: Ulysses S. Grant

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pp. 33-60

In a downpour on 6 April 1862, Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman spent the early evening searching for his superior, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union Army of the Tennessee. He found him crouched under a tree with rain dripping from his down-turned hat and a dim lantern providing meager light.

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3. Institutional Leadership: George C. Marshall

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pp. 61-91

By the end of March 1945, massive Anglo-American formations were streaming across the Rhine River, encircling the key German industrial area of the Ruhr. In the east, the Red Army was less than fifty miles from Berlin. On 30 March, British prime minister Winston Churchill had cabled his representative on the Combined Chiefs...

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4. Cross-Cultural Leadership: Dwight D. Eisenhower

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pp. 93-124

Many people have analyzed Dwight D. Eisenhower’s leadership as supreme Allied commander in Europe during World War II. Less known are the origins of his leadership principles and the fact that Eisenhower did not relate to other Allied leaders in an impromptu manner, relying on charm and a smile, as much as he endeavored to...

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5. Charismatic Leadership: Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller

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pp. 125-153

Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller requires no introduction to an audience of marines. Veterans and partisans of the army, navy, and air force might debate over the preeminent leader in their respective services, but there is absolutely no doubt that Puller is the hero of the U.S. Marine Corps—the very icon of the institution.

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6. Visionary Leadership: Henry H. "Hap" Arnold

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pp. 155-177

In the closing months of World War II, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was awarded his fifth star and thus became the only air commander to earn the rank of General of the Army. In May 1949, three years into his retirement, Arnold became the first and only military officer to receive the honorary rank of General of the Air Force. These...

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7. Technology and Leadership: Hyman G. Rickover

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pp. 179-208

In November 1981, two months before the end of his unprecedented sixty-three-year navy career, which included thirty-five years overseeing the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover lectured to a Columbia University audience on the components of effective leadership: “What it takes to do a job will not...

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8. Adaptive Leadership: Harold G. "Hal" Moore

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pp. 209-229

In Command in War, Martin van Creveld notes that “the history of command in war consists of an endless quest for certainty.”1 In the 1990s, consistent with van Creveld’s observation, initiatives under the auspices of “defense transformation” sought to achieve “dominant battlespace knowledge” to permit commanders to make the right decisions,...

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9. Exemplary Followership: Colin L. Powell

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pp. 231-264

Nine days before Christmas Day in 1989, General Colin L. Powell received word that an American marine lieutenant had been shot near a roadblock manned by the Panamanian Defense Forces. Powell also learned that a U.S. Navy lieutenant and his wife who had witnessed the shooting had been physically assaulted by Panamanian interrogators.

Recommended Reading

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pp. 265-267


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pp. 269-270


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pp. 271-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173122
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125138

Page Count: 294
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Command of troops -- Case studies.
  • United States -- History, Naval.
  • Admirals -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- History, Military.
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Officers -- Biography.
  • Generals -- United States -- Biography.
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