General Petraeus Law of Effective Leadership Will Now be Used in Afghanistan

The Law of Turnaround Leadership that General Petraeus will use as new commander in Afghanistan


Franklin, NC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 06/24/2010 -- Notes on Quotes: “Leadership, without learning from past failures, is equivalent to sending firefighters in the wrong direction to put out the fire. Effective leaders learn from past mistakes and create a workable path.”

Is modern leadership failing? In an age of rapid change leaders use the same unsuccessful strategies over and over again and are surprised when the strategies continue not to work. Our leadership need to study the Petraeus Law of Leadership based on our quote and column recently published in the Franklin Press in Franklin, North Carolina. The Law of Turnaround Leadership involving leaders learning from past mistakes and creating a new workable path is in our opinion the most difficult concept of leadership that effective leaders must master.

One example of effective turnaround leadership involving learning from mistakes is General David Petraeus. General Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974 and obtained his doctorate degree at Princeton University. While at Princeton, he wrote his dissertation on lessons of Vietnam. He then returned to West point as a professor. Petraeus became a thinker. As an expert on counter insurgency, his strategies differed from other military leaders. Petraeus was able to learn from past mistakes and eventually implement a new strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Major General with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 in Iraq, he saw the need to begin “nation building.” He adopted a strategy of troops being actively present among the population to provide security for the people. Using his discretionary funds, he built schools, established public work projects, supported local elections and gained the support of local populations. He helped reopen the University of Mosul and built local alliances to establish military security for civilians. This meant an end to Al-Qaeda’s control of local populations in those regions.

Prior to Petraeus becoming Commanding General in Iraq in 2007, our mission there was failing. He successfully implemented a surge strategy and worked to train the Iraqi military to take over operations. Our combat role in Iraq is scheduled to end in August, 2010 with about 50,000 military advisers left In Iraq.

Just named top commander in Afghanistan, after President Obama accepted General McChrystal’s resignation, in late 2008, Petraeus was given command of the United States Central Command. This included responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan as well as counterinsurgency strategy in other countries. The Petraeus Doctrine, as some have called it, involves at its center government building, a surge in forces to secure areas, building the capabilities of local governments and preparing the country to assume responsibility for its own defense.

With Afghanistan we were again in trouble as terrorists had control of most provinces. Our military were stationed at distant outposts, which allowed terrorists to return each night to exact punishment. The Petraeus strategy of providing security for the local population will help keep the terrorists from reestablishing a foothold. Troops are currently applying lessons learned from the mistakes of Vietnam and our early experiences in Iraq. We should soon be seeing more signs of success with Al-Qaeda on the run with General David Petraeus’s thinking and disciplined strategies in Afghanistan.

It seems simple to ask leaders to learn from our past mistakes. Why do they often fail to do so? Leaders focus on action and action without thought is a formula for failure. Leaders can be ego driven and are often busier defending their actions than examining what went wrong. Finally, leaders may be threatened by independent thinking and surround themselves with “yes” people, discouraging creativity.

Petraeus uses a brain trust of leadership, attracting the best minds to work with him. He has shown remarkable leadership and political skills in getting his military strategies adopted. He has also shown diplomatic skills, an ability to work with others, and an ability to work quietly behind the scenes.

Our future as a nation may depend on our learning from our mistakes. General Petraeus is a powerful example of learning from the past, applying creative thinking, and achieving a different result. In the words of Petraeus, “the mission {is} akin to repairing an aircraft while in flight…while being shot at.” History waits for thinking leaders who apply lessons learned and help us create a positive future for all.

Gordon Mercer is international president of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and a professor of political science. Marcia Mercer is a writer and columnist. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of other organizations. Go to to review all past quotes and columns on leadership.

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Marcia and Gordon Mercer
Notes on Quotes

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