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Rewriting the book, Gen. Petraeus-style

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

In 2005, Gen. David Petraeus understood that the U.S. military’s “seek and destroy” strategy against insurgents in Iraq wasn’t working. So, he rewrote the book … literally.

Guided by a handful of farsighted allies, Petraeus revised the military’s manual on counterinsurgency. His goal: to emphasize protecting Iraqi citizens as a way of winning their help in defeating the insurgents.

At the heart of this new strategy lie three paradoxes relevant to leaders in all settings who face a formidable challenge (or enemy):

1. The more you protect your force, the less secure you are. If you stay locked up within your power structure, you lose touch with the very people—those who report to you—who will ensure your victory.

2. The more force you use, the less effective you are. Top-down directives don’t win hearts and minds.

3. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best reaction.
Don’t let yourself be provoked into action.

— Adapted from The Gamble, Thomas Ricks, Penguin Press.

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