New Leadership For A New War

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New Leadership For A New War

By: Brent Filson

The author observes that the war on terror calls for a new kind of leadership. Just as the war is "asymmetrical", it needs "asymmetrical leadership" to help win it. Fortunately, such leadership doesn't have to be invented. It's already been developed by business leaders for the past several decades in the global marketplace.

Military analysts call this "asymmetrical" war (as if war has a terrible symmetry); and we know that it will be as different from conventional war as three-dimensional, blindfolded chess is from conventional chess. But one thing is certain, leadership lies at the heart of achieving victory. You only have to look to history to understand that when people needed to accomplish great things, whether in war or peace, great leaders had to rise to the occasion.

Because asymmetrical war is a new kind of war, a war that is more about waging peace on many different levels than waging actual war itself, a war/peace in which accountants, logisticians, diplomats, economic experts will also be the front-line troops, it calls for a new kind of leadership - asymmetrical leadership.

Just as asymmetrical war is fluid, multi-dimensional, and global, asymmetrical leadership must be too. But we don't have to create asymmetrical leadership from scratch. To some extent, it's already being developed and modeled in a few forward-thinking American businesses. What does business leadership have to do with waging asymmetrical war? During the past 15 or 20 years, many businesses have had to compete in asymmetrical markets, markets that are global, multi-faceted and swiftly changing. To succeed in these markets, the leaders of these businesses have had to discard old leadership methods and practices and put into action new ones. In short, they've had to develop asymmetric leadership.

To understand such leadership, first, let's look at the basic concept of leadership itself. The word "leadership" itself comes from old Norse root meaning "to make go." But leaders often stumble when trying to understand who makes what go? Generally, the conventional view of leadership has been one of an order-giving process. Many leaders believe that they must "make" people go by ordering them to do things. Order-leadership in business has its roots in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. "Order" comes from a Latin root meaning to arrange threads in a weaving woof. The captains of the Revolution dealt with the relatively uneducated country people who flocked to their factories by ordering them where, how, and when to work. The most efficient and effective production methods resulted from workers being "ordered" or ranked like threads in the woof of production lines. Refined and empowered by the Victorian commercial culture, with its patriarchal power structure and strong links to Prussian military organization, the culture of the order-giver leader reached its zenith in the United States after World War II.

During the post-war years, many U.S. businesses were like ocean liners plowing through relatively calm seas, their leaders, like liner captains and mates, running things by getting orders from superiors, giving orders to subordinates and making sure that those orders were carried out.

But roughly since the mid-1980s, with competition increasing dramatically on a global scale, business leaders have come to need skills not akin to ocean liner piloting but white-water canoeing. Order leadership founders where lines of authority are blurring, the volume and velocity of information proliferating, markets rapidly changing, and alliance and coalition building multiplying. This is where asymmetrical leadership comes in. Asymmetrical leadership is to traditional leadership as white water canoeing is to ocean liner piloting.

Here are a few characteristics of asymmetrical leadership.

Asymmetrical leadership is motivational: Businesses that engage in asymmetrical leadership find that motivation is a critical factor in achieving success. After all, since leaders do nothing more important than get results and since they can't get results all by themselves, they need the people they lead to get results. In markets where speed, innovation, change acceleration, and global reach are important, motivated people get far more results than people who are simply responding to orders. And if our nation's leaders expect to meet the challenges of asymmetrical warfare, they must come to grips with the motivational aspects of asymmetrical leadership. In fact, if asymmetric leadership isn't motivational, it's simply running around in the dark.

But leaders often misunderstand motivation simply because the English language fails to describe how it takes place. English construes motivation as an active verb - as something one person does to another person. The truth is that leaders can't motivate anybody to do anything. Leaders communicate - the people whom they lead motivate. They motivate themselves. Only they can motivate themselves. In asymmetrical leadership, the motivators and the motivatees are the same people.

To engage in asymmetrical leadership, leaders must recognize that they are motivating people only when they, the leaders, create an environment in which those people are actively motivating themselves. Motivation is the people's choice, not the leader's choice. It's the people's free choice. If that principle is not driving leadership activities, people are not engaged in asymmetrical leadership.

For instance, a critical battlefield of the war are the streets of the Islamic world where hatred of America seems to be rampant. As long as masses of people hate America, as long as they continue to see the American government as the actual terrorist, our nation cannot bring this war to a just conclusion. Clearly, this isn't a command-and-control issue. People cannot be ordered to stop hating. We have to employ asymmetrical leadership. We have to motivate them - in other words, we must set up, through a variety of means, the environment in which they motivate themselves to become our allies, in which they make the choice to work along side us as full partners in concluding the war. It will take a long, superhuman, multifaceted endeavor, an endeavor that cannot succeed without our employing asymmetrical leadership.

Asymmetrical leadership is action-based: Businesses faced with rapid, global change have come to understand that motivation isn't what people think or feel but what they physically do. A key aspect of how asymmetrical leadership views motivation lies in the first two letters of that word. Those letters - "mo" - are also found in the words "motion," "momentum," "motor," "mobile," etc. The words denote action - physical action. To engage in asymmetrical leadership, leaders must constantly be challenging others to take specific physical action across all the dimensions that leads to results.

Our motivating people who hate us to ultimately become our partners in peace will entail not our simply paying lip-service to such a partnership. We must undertake concrete actions that will begin to establish the motivational environment. Asymmetrical leadership demands that we and "they" ultimately take action together to redress the many social, political, and military wrongs that breed hatred.

Asymmetrical leadership is results-driven: Businesses have discovered that in order to succeed in asymmetrical markets, their leaders and employees must have a passion to achieve results. After all, people who simply take action are useless to a business. Only those people who get results are useful.

This seems like a simple enough dictum; any leader will say that they have a passion to get results. But I have found out that what most leaders have a passion for, whether they know it or not, is engaging in the tradition, linear, captain-to-mate-to-crew leadership - either because they know no other way of leading or because they are more comfortable being engaged in such leadership. For such leadership has a materially different focus than asymmetrical leadership. Traditional leadership focuses on the activities that get results; whereas asymmetrical leadership focuses on the results that get the activities. When you are leading organizations in asymmetrical markets, you must not be wedded to activities but instead to results and only to those activities that achieve those results. This means that if activities are not getting results, you change them or eliminate them and institute new activities. In organizations run by traditional leadership, changing activities means changing the status quo, a vastly difficult job.

For instance, to get results in asymmetrical markets, many businesses have had to eliminate those traditional activities that achieve results and engage in new, innovative ways. They had to break up their linear lines of reporting. They've had to reduce the tiers of leadership, they've had to downsize their staffs and decentralize their functions, they've had to institute just-in-time inventory systems, they've had to cultivate the capability of quickly formulating and disbanding results-focused teams - all with one aim in mind: to get more results, faster results, and "more, faster" on a continual basis. In short, they have had to become masters of asymmetrical leadership.

America's new war demands new leadership. We don't have to invent this leadership. It already exists. With the emergence of new, global markets, a corresponding new vision of leadership has been emerging with some businesses. Asymmetrical leadership is being developed and applied in the crucible of global business competition. It is the very kind of leadership that can and must be applied to all the multi-faceted endeavors of asymmetrical war.

2005 Copyright The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished in newsletters and on web sites provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link. Email notice of intent to publish is appreciated but not required: mail to:

About The Author

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. - and for more than 20 years has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at


D 30.10.2012. 23:08

What are the names of the paintings President Obama has in the Oval Office? In this photo: you can see two paintings hanging on both sides of the President's desk. I believe the one on the left is the same that President Bartlet had in the West Wing. Does anyone know their names?


Admin 30.10.2012. 23:08

The one on the left is Childe Hassam's "The Avenue in the Rain."

The other is Norman Rockwell "Statue of Liberty.";jsessionid=F8AC9CA30895F5223B54D155445E2CAC?id=191&index=212&total=300&collection=White%20House%20Art%20Collection&categoryId=402&categoryTypeId=1&filterId=0&sortAttributeId=0&sortDescending=false


lizzie 24.10.2011. 09:16

what were charles de gaulles significant contributions to the war? in other words, how did his leadership shape the war and effect its outcomes?


Admin 24.10.2011. 09:16

Very Little once he ran away to the UK Churchill Stalin and FDR ignored him he was not Involved in any of the planning

and when the Big liberation parade was being Organised Eisenhower ordered all the Coloured units Out of paris and Degaul Must not lead the Free french

and after Britain helped Free France from the Bosch

Degaul repaid the British By refusing us entry into the Common Market

he was Viewed Like Napoleon by some of the British Military as a coward he was in the UK before France fell and napoleon was running away to paris whilst his Grand army was being destroyed by the prussians and the British

I am a survivor of Hitlers Bombing on London and i Never liked Degaul especially after he promoted himself whilst In exile

he Mighy have done great things in the Great war but WW2 ????????


Jono Tracy 15.04.2008. 07:19

What are some examples of people prosecuted for war crimes? I would love some examples of times throughout history where people have been prosecuted for war crimes, partially
Leadership in unjust wars
Citizen prosecution and
Most importantly: propaganda.
Thankyou very much.

Jono Tracy

Admin 15.04.2008. 07:19

Well Nazi Germany is probably going to be top on everyones list of war crimes. Propaganda was a vital tool in Nazi Germany. Propaganda was also important in the Soviet Union, although thats technically not war crimes. Imperial Japan in WW2 was guilty of war crimes also. Going further back, although not charged many of the top Union government officials including President Lincoln could have been charged with war crimes. Lincoln completely ignored many amendments, especially in Maryland where he closed Newspapers that opposed him which could be considered a form of propaganda. Lincoln also ordered Sherman's March, The Dalgreen raid and other attacks that didn't just target the enemy army but the civilians of the enemy country. Although really thought of as common place now during the Civil War an attack on the civilians was unheard of and against the rules of war. WW1 could really be thought of as the first war to war crime charges and propaganda as we know it today. If you look up WW1 you will find pictures of British posters warning of the "Evil Hun coming to get England, God save the King". Thats all I can thing of right now, hope this helps.


Animal Lover 11.12.2008. 22:44

What would be an example of tangible and intangible characteristics of effective combat leadership in the war? I am reading some books on the war and I don't know how to answer this question. Thanks

Animal Lover

Admin 11.12.2008. 22:44

A tangible (touchable) characteristic would be, for example, if a combat leader taught skills or attitudes which resulted in you or someone else actually saving the life of a buddy in combat.

An intangible (untouchable) characteristic would be if you took away from that combat leadership the general principle that sacrifice for good people is worthwhile and important and you used it in your life thereafter.


chrisss 02.01.2009. 19:32

What were the legacies of Winston Churchill? What were the legacies of Winston Churchill on government, leadership, war, democracy, etc.? please give detail. thanks
both positives and negatives


Admin 02.01.2009. 19:32

Research him for yourself!


Anti-Socialist 21.08.2007. 01:59

How many new Bin Laden's do you think have been created over the last 6 years of Bush's Iraq war? The Russians helped create the entire Al Qaeda leadership during their war in Afganhistan & those terrorists ended up planning & executing the 9/11 terror attacks, I just wonder how many new Al Qaeda leaders have been created with today's Iraq war?

One, two, five, ten, twenty, more????


Admin 21.08.2007. 01:59

What do you think Ronnie Reagan's government in the 80s was doing in Afghanistan, supporting the Taliban against the Soviet armies!!!

Bin Laden is a direct result of the kind of meddling American foreign policy generates in the politics of foreign nations.

And now you probably have at least 50,000 more Bin Laden wanna-bes who are just as ticked off.


Shinning*finger 31.07.2009. 06:46

One soldier thought that General MacArthur is lying, why is that? General MacArthur and some of the retired soldiers were exchanging old war stories. General MacArthur mentioned that he led a battalion against a german division during world war 1. through brilliant maneuvers, he defeated them and captured valuable territory. After the battle he was presented with a sword bearing the inscription "To Captain MacArthur, Bravery and Leadership. World war 1. from the Men of Battalion 6. One soldier thought that General MacArthur is lying, why is that?


Admin 31.07.2009. 06:46

MacArthur is a grave.


thisisrileysmith26 31.03.2008. 04:47

I need a thesis for my history term paper topics: the space race and the vietnam war? My thesis for each so far:

The Space Race: The Americans entered the Space Race to show their superiority in their military,
science, technology, and leadership.

The Vietnam War: The American entered the war in order to the stop the spread of Communism.

Are these good? Or does anyone else have a better idea for a thesis?



Admin 31.03.2008. 04:47

Vietnam and the Moon: The Race to get new Drugs

I would say they are good, but also note that the United States wanted to show that our economy was better than the Soviets' communist economy as well, and that the Vietnam War was also a display in military power. If you want to get technical, there were several classified military missions in space (i think there were six, probably nuclear-related, many of them), so you can also claim the space race as at least partially military superiority.


mastersimons 03.12.2008. 21:06

Why is the start of the War of 1812 considered to be the sixth worst presidential mistake? What were the cons of this war that made it be the 6th worst presidential mistake?


Admin 03.12.2008. 21:06

I disagree with "Augie."

The reason this was a mistake had nothing to do with the military leadership during the war. It had to do with how the US got involved in the first place.

This war was fought largely over the British trade restrictions place on American vessels moving in European waters and the practice of "Impressment" by which British sailors intercepted American vessels on the high seas and took American Seamen off the vessels to serve on the British ships.

The Americans threatened war if the British didn't stop. President Madison wanted to hold out longer, but caved in to Congress which declared war on Great Britain. The reason it was a mistake is that the British government had already given the Americans the concessions it demanded, but the news took too long to travel. And by the time it reached America, the war was already on.

Incidentally, the final battle of the war, The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 15, 1815 was a resounding American Victory that sealed the reputation of General Andrew Jackson, but had actually been another waste because the treaty ending the war had already been signed in Ghent on December 24 of the previous year. But once again, the news didn't reach America in time.

So Augie's statement that no concessions were made on the original problems is wrong. The causes were addressed before the war began, and the blunder was in moving too hastily to war. If everyone had kept his head, the whole war could have been avoided.


tex123 06.09.2012. 03:55

Was Napoleon the last world leader to actually lead his army? Lots of military leaders gain leadership after a war. But how many modern leaders actually fight the wars they start?


Admin 06.09.2012. 03:55

Ho Chi Minh (1890 - 1969) - North Vietnamese leader defeated the Japanese on Asian mainland

Attaturk (1881 - 1938) - led Turkish Army


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