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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

The Armed Forces Officer by U.S. Dept. of Defense



I finished this book in November 2023. I recommend this book 8/10.


You should read this book if you are looking for the key actions and initiatives to be a good leader. This book proves that most leadership principles have stood the test of time in business and the military.


Get your copy here.


🚀 The book in three sentences

  1. Rules for good leadership will always be the same.

  2. Behave as a respected individual

  3. Discipline, confidence, respect, care, and recognize others—are all about leading


📝 My notes and thoughts

  • P31. Even long and successful experience does not always allay this doubt. Said Washington, on being appointed Commander-In-Chief: "I beg it may be remembered by every man in this room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."

  • P51. The Cigar Mess is the successor of the old Wine Mess. You may make purchases from this mess, for example, of cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and candies. The cigar mess treasurer will make out your bill at the end of the month or before your detachment. Before you are detached be sure that the mess treasurer and the cigar mess treasurer have sufficient warning to make out your bills before you leave.

  • P57. For these and many other reasons, the habit of systematic saving is an essential form of career insurance. The officer who will not deprive himself of a few luxuries to build up a financial reserve is as reckless of his professional future as the one who, in battle, commits his manpower reserve to front-line action without first weighing his situation.

  • P62. If you like people, if you seek contact with them rather than hiding yourself in a corner, if you study your fellow men sympathetically, if you try consistently to contribute something to their success and happiness, if you are reasonably generous with your thoughts and your time, if you have a partial reserve with everyone but seeming reserve with no one, if you work to be interesting rather than spend to be a good fellow, you will get along with your superiors, your subordinates, your orderly, your roommate and the human race.

  • P64. One of our best-known corps commanders in the Pacific War made it a rule that if any man serving under him, or any man he knew in the service, however unimportant, was promoted or given any other recognition, he would write a letter to the man's wife or mother, saying how proud he felt. He was not a great tactician or strategist, but because of the little things he did, men loved him and would ride to hell for him, and their collective moral strength became a bastion of his professional success.

  • P65. Once again, however, it might be well to speak of the importance of enthusiasm, kindness, courtesy, and justice, which are the safeguards of honor and the tokens of mutual respect between man and man. This last there must be if men are to go forward together, prosper in one another's company, find strength in the bonds of mutual service, and experience a common felicity in the relationship between the leader and the led.

  • P77. Quite a resolution. The hardihood to take risks. The will to take full responsibility for decisions. The readiness to share its reward with subordinates. An equal readiness to take the blame when things go adversely. The nerve to survive storms and disappointment and to face each new day with the scoresheet wiped clean, neither dwelling on one's successes nor accepting discouragement from one's failures.

  • P84. Personal advancement, within any worthwhile system, requires some sacrifice of leisure, and more careful attention to the better organization of one's working routine. But that does not entail heroic self-sacrifice or the forfeiting of any of life's truly enduring rewards. It means putting the completion of work ahead of golf and bridge. It means rejecting the convenient excuse for postponing the solution of the problem until the next time. It means cultivating the mind during hours that would otherwise be spent in idleness. It means concentrating for longer periods on the work at hand without getting up from one's chair.

  • P97. Among the most common experiences in war is witnessing troops doing nothing, or worse, doing the wrong thing without one commanding voice being raised to give them direction. In such circumstances, any man who has the nerve and presence to step forward and give them an intelligent order in a manner indicating that he expects to be obeyed will be accepted as a leader and will be given their support.

  • P108. In the midst of war, when all else is in flux, at least one thing stands fast. The methods, the self-discipline, and the personality that will best enable the officer to command efficiently during peace are identical to the requirements that will fit him to shape new material most perfectly under the condition of war. This is only another way of saying that for his own success, in addition to the solid qualities that win him the respect of other men, when war comes, he needs vast adaptability and confidence that will carry over from one situation to another, or he will have no peace of mind.

  • P117. To say that promptness and positiveness in the execution of a mission are at all times major virtues does not imply that the good man, like an old fire horse, moves out instantly at the clang of the bell. The soundness of action involves a sense of timing. Thoroughness is the way of duty, rather than a speed which goes off half-cocked. There is frequently a time for waiting; there is always time for acute reflection. The brain, which works "like a steel trap," exists only in friction. Even such men as General Eisenhower, or Admiral Nimitz, or for that matter, Gen. U. S. Grant, have at times deferred decisions temporarily while waiting for a change in tide or circumstance to help them make up their minds. This is normal in the rational individual; it is not a sign of weakness. Rather than cultivate a belief in one's own infallibility, the mature outlook for the military man is expressed in the injunction of the Apostle Paul: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Grant wrote of the early stage of his advance on Richmond: " At this time I was not entirely decided as to how I should move my Army." From the pen of General Eisenhower come these words: "The commander's success will be measured more by his ability to lead than by his adherence to fixed notions." Thus, in the conduct of operation not less than in the execution of orders, it is necessary that the mind remain plastic and impressionable.

  • P134. "We used artisans to do the work for which they had been training in civil life. They were well-led by officers who spoke their language. We made them feel that they were playing an important part in the great adventure. And thus they achieved a high standard of morale." The elements underscored by Admiral Moreell deserve special note.

  • Satisfaction in a work program.

  • Mutual confidence between leaders and ranks

  • The conviction that all together, they were striving for something more important than themselves.

  • P136. The rule applies in matters great and small. No man who leads a squad or a squadron, a group of men or a group of armies, can develop within his force a well-placed confidence in its own powers if he is uncertain of himself or doubtful of his object. The moral level of his men is mainly according to the manner in which he expresses his personal force working with and for them. If he is timid or aloof, uncommunicative and unenthusiastic, prone to stand on his dignity and devoid of interest in the human stuff of those who are within his charge, they will not respond to him, and he will have raised a main barrier to his own success. If, given a course of taking one of his own choices, he worries so greatly about the obstacle in his way that he cannot do the penetrating search for the clear channel, he will waste the powers of his men even though he may have won their sympathy.

  • P137. Nothing more radical is being suggested here than that the officer who would make certain that the morale of his men will prove equal to every change cannot do better than concentrate his best efforts upon his primary military obligation—his duty to them. They dupe only themselves who believe that there is a brand of military efficiency that consists of moving smartly, expediting papers, and achieving perfection in formations while at the same time slighting or ignoring the human nature of those whom they command. The art of leadership, the art of command, whether the forces be large or small, is the art of dealing with humanity. Only the officer who dedicates his thought and energy to his men can convert into coherent military force their desire to be of service to the country. Such were the fundamental values that Napoleon had in mind when he said that those who would learn the art of war should study the Great Captains. He was not speaking of tactics and strategy. He was pointing to the success of Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal in molding raw human nature and to their understanding of the thinking of their men and of how to direct it toward military advantage. These are the grand objects. Diligence in the care of men, administration of all organizational affairs according to a standard of resolute justice, military bearing in one's self, and finally, an understanding of the simple facts that men in a fighting establishment wish to think of themselves in that light and that all military information is nourishing to their spirits and their lives, are the four fundamentals by which the commander builds and all-sufficing morale in those within his charge.

  • P138. In an age when there is a widespread presumption that practical problems can be solved by phrases, the military body needs more than ever to hold steadfastly to first principles. It does no good for an officer to talk patriotism to his men unless he stands four-square with them, and they see him as a symbol of what is right with the country. Under those circumstances, he can always talk to them about the cause, and what he says will be a tonic to morale.

  • P141. There are a few governing principles, and before considering their application in detail, we should first think about the file. He is a Man; he expects to be treated as an adult, not as a schoolboy. He has rights; they must be made known to him and thereafter respected. He has ambition; it must be stirred. He has a belief in fair play; it must be honored. He has the need for comradeship; it must be supplied. He has an imagination; it must be stimulated. He has a sense of personal dignity; it must not be broken down. He has pride; it can be satisfied and be made the bedrock of his character once he gains assurance that he is playing a useful and respected part in a superior and successful organization. To give men working as a group the feeling of great accomplishment together is the acme of inspired leadership.

  • P164. As a practical matter, it is better to concentrate on a few elementary rules of thumb, such as those contained in the following list, than to bog down attempting to heed everything that the pedants have said about how to become a writer.

  • The simpler a thing is said, the more powerfully it influences those who read. Plain words make strong writing.

  • There is always one best word to convey a thought or feeling. To accept a weaker substitute rather than Search for the right word will deprive any writing of force.

  • The economy of words invigorates composition.

  • To quote Carl Sandburg: "Think twice before you use an adjective."

  • It is better to use the adverb because an adverb enhances the verb and is active, whereas the adjective simply loads down the noun.

  • On the other hand, it is the verb that makes language live. Nine times out of ten the verb is the operative word giving motion to the sentence. Hence, placing the verb is of first importance in strengthening sentence structure.

  • In all writing, but in military writing particularly, there is no excuse for vague terminology or phrases that do not convey an exact impression of what was done or what is intended. The military vocabulary is laden with words and expressions that sound professional but do not have a definite meaning. They vitiate speech, and the establishment would gladly rid itself of them if a way could be found. Men fall into the habit of saying "performed," "functioned" or "executed" and forget that "did" is in the dictionary. A captain along the MLR (main line of resistance) notifies his battalion commander that he has "advanced his left flank" when all that has actually occurred is that six riflemen from the left have crawled forward to new, and possibly, untenable ground.

  • It is better to rein in at all times. The strength of military writing, like the soundness of military operations, does not gain through overstatement and artificial coloring. The bigger the subject, the less embroidery is needed.

  • For lucidity and sincerity, the important thing is to say what you have to say in whatever words most accurately express your own thoughts. That done, it is pointless to worry about the effect on the audience.

  • P174. Like ten years in the penitentiary, it's easy to say but hard to do. So much time, seemingly, has to be wasted in profitless study to find a few kernels amid much chaff. Napoleon said at one point that the trouble with books is that one must read so many bad ones to find something really good. True enough but, even so, there are perfectly practical ways to advance rapidly whiteout undue waste motion. Consider this: Among one's superiors there are always discriminating men who have "adopted" a few good books after reading many bad ones. When they say that a text is worthwhile, it deserves reading and careful study.

  • P182. An officer should never speak ironically or sarcastically to an enlisted man, since the latter doesn't have a fair chance to answer back. The use of profanity and epithets comes under the same heading. The best argument for a man keeping his temper is that nobody else wants it, and when he voluntarily throws it away, he loses a main prop to his own position.

  • P183. A birthday is a big day in a man's life. So is his wedding. So is the birth of a child. By checking the roster and records and keeping an ear to the ground for news of what is happening in the unit, an officer can follow these events. Call the man in and give him a handclasp and word of congratulations, or write a note to the home. Takes very little time and is worth every moment of it. Likewise, if he has won some distinction, such as earning a promotion, a letter of appreciation to his parents or his wife will compound the value of telling the man himself that you are proud of what he has done.

  • P183. An officer should not ask a man: "Would you like to do such-and-such a task?" when he has already made up his mind to assign him to a certain line of duty. Orders, hesitatingly given, are doubtfully received. But the right way to do it is to instill the idea of collaboration. There is something irresistibly appealing about such an approach as: " I need your help. Here's what we have to do."

  • P199. It is never a waste of time for the commander, or for any officer, to talk to his people about their personal problems. More times than not, the problem will seem small to him, but so long as it looms large to the man, it cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Ridicule, sarcasm, and the brush-off are equally inexcusable in any situation where one individual takes another into his confidence on any matter that does not involve bad faith on the part of the petitioner. Even then, if the man imparts that which shows that his won conduct has been reprehensible or that he would enlist the support of his superior in some unworthy act, it is better to hear him through and then skin him than to treat what he says in an offhand manner. An officer will grow in the esteem of his men only as he treats their affairs with respect. The policy of patience and goodwill pays off tenfold because what happens to one man is soon known to the others.

  • P224. On the other hand, because standards of discipline and courtesy are designed for the express purpose of furthering control under the extraordinary frictions and pressures of the battlefield, their maintenance under combat conditions is as necessary as during training. Smartness and respect are the marks of military alertness, no matter how difficult the circumstances are. But courtesy starts at the top, in the dealing of any officer with his subordinates and in his decent regard for their loyalty, intelligence, and manhood.

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