Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership In the Pentagon

Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership In the Pentagon

When I cracked open this lengthy tome on leadership lessons by former Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, I wondered, “Am I really going to read this?” But I am not about reading and writing reviews only about what seems to fit in my wheelhouse, so I ventured forth, and boy did Carter (SecDef Ash, that is) prove me wrong.

Anyone who is looking to hone their leadership skills should pick up this book and be ready to take copious notes.

It’s a fantastic approach at sharing how the author’s service under five presidential administrations provides hard-core lessons in leadership that are applicable in any organization. Additionally, you get a birds-eye view of what is behind the walls of the Pentagon, how it is run, national budgetary allocations, how the defense budget supports our military and more insight than most citizens would be privy to. I really appreciate that insight as well.

But back to leadership.

Carter uses his experiences, and those of other notable leaders, to both illustrate and punctuate the outlined lessons he presents in this book. While he shares what works well, he’s also incredibly transparent about past mistakes and relevant takeaways. This, coupled with his frank narrative, convinces me this is a surprisingly down-to-earth, thoughtful yet courageous government official that you’d actually welcome leading your own organization.

Here’s how I’d approach this read.

Start with the acceptance that you’ll take copious notes providing guidance on managing team members, leading up, negotiating with vendors and constituents and how to keep your eye on the most important objectives all while prioritizing stakeholders’ interests. Not an easy task. But many leaders fail to realize that these responsibilities are all in their job description. So, spending time studying these challenges and opportunities and how leaders in an array of industries approach them provides you with a handbook for success.

A few of the hard-won lessons that he writes about include the importance of healthy competition, continual revitalization of procurement practices and how to think evolutionary while daily threats continually emerge, often ones you didn’t see coming or had ever experienced before. He provides guidance on how to be nimble and strategic in the face of bureaucracy which is inherent in any organization and often creates ethical issues for leaders that shouldn’t be ignored.

One of my favorite examples that he shares is the hardline negotiation for the Joint Strike Fighter which demonstrates how important it is to do the right thing by the people you serve. When you consider what’s fair, and not let politics and historical practices sideline decisions, you’ll achieve sustainable and sound outcomes even if you need to be bold in your request.

Curating effective resources on a limited budget is always a challenge for leaders.

Now imagine that the key elements of the country’s defense are at stake. You’ll need to be a savvy negotiator and creative thinker to resolve this challenge. Carter shares how his team and trusted colleagues were able to step up to this challenge time and again. The use of drones in place of manpower and EID sniffing working military dogs to support personnel all the way to budgeting for a two-front war. Of course, there are the funds that must be allocated to prepare for threats presented with emerging leaders of volatile nations. Though this may never be an issue you’d have to face in your leadership role, Carter sifts out from these experiences relevant and timely lessons that are applicable to the c-suite.

There are several sections of his book devoted to the importance of building the force of the future and how forging a gifted staff is critical. Finding experienced and qualified team members with diverse backgrounds and beliefs is so incredibly valuable in creating collaboration and devising smart and unique solutions, rather than adopting partisan and biased political views.

As you can see, I could go on and on about the positives of this incredibly engaging book on leadership success.

Anyone who has an interest in growing as a leader in their personal and professional lives should add Inside the Five-Sided Box to their leadership bookshelf. It’s not only a fascinating and informative read but will be a go-to manual for support on your success journey.

Image Courtesy of Penguin Group/Dutton

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