How a four-star gen­eral and a Berke­ley pro­fes­sor wrote a book to­gether

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BOOKS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR The Wash­ing­ton Post

The first time Ori Braf­man met Martin Dempsey, the author and lead­er­ship ad­viser found him­self on the four-star gen­eral’s of­fice com­puter pulling up images of the Burn­ing Man fes­ti­val — the event in the Ne­vada desert each sum­mer known for its bare­ly­clothed, sub­stance-laden, fu­tur­ist tech-punk at­mos­phere.

It was 2009, amid the con­tin­ued spread of ex­trem­ist Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups, and Dempsey — who was in charge of train­ing and doc­trine com­mand for the U.S. Army at the time— had called Braf­man, the author of a widely read 2006 book called “The Starfish and the Spi­der: The Un­stop­pable Power of Lead­er­less Or­ga­ni­za­tions,” for a meet­ing. A fa­vorite of the tea party move­ment, Braf­man’s book ex­am­ines net­worked, de­cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tions such as alQaida, Wikipedia and yes, Burn­ing Man, which thrive de­spite not hav­ing tra­di­tional leader-driven hi­er­ar­chies.

“I’m like ‘what in the world have we got­ten our­selves into?’” Dempsey re­called, laugh­ing, dur­ing a phone in­ter­view this week. “I didn’t know what Burn­ing Man was. I’m not sure I want to know now.”

But the meet­ing kicked off a years­long odd-cou­ple friend­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion that re­cently pro­duced Dempsey’s first book about lead­er­ship, “Rad­i­cal In­clu­sion: What 9/11 Should have Taught Us About Lead­er­ship,” which he and Braf­man co-au­thored. They call them­selves “the gen­eral and the guru.”

“I took a shot at a book prior to this one, but when we went to the big four pub­lish­ers they ac­tu­ally weren’t in­ter­ested,” Dempsey said, say­ing they pre­ferred a “kiss and tell book about Pres­i­dent Obama” he had no in­ter­est in writ­ing.

The duo’s book ar­gues that the na­ture of power is chang­ing, mak­ing it harder than ever for lead­ers to win the trust and con­fi­dence of the people they lead, and that in re­sponse lead­ers need to be more in­clu­sive, re­lin­quish more con­trol and fo­cus more on nar­ra­tives dur­ing a time when the dig­i­tal world has eroded many people’s un­der­stand­ing of the truth. (The ti­tle is also one of Burn­ing Man’s “10 prin­ci­ples;” Braf­man says that while he thinks it’s “def­i­nitely a nod” to the event, it was also meant to be provoca­tive.)

Braf­man, a San Fran­cisco-based ad­viser to cor­po­ra­tions and a ve­gan who ma­jored in peace and con­flict stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­ni­aBerke­ley and started a non­profit aimed at CEO net­works for in­ter­na­tional peace, is as sur­prised as any­one by his part­ner­ship with the former Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who com­manded the 1st Ar­mored Divi­sion in Bagh­dad, served as act­ing com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand and the Army’s 37th chief of staff.

“The last per­son I ever thought I’d write a book with was the former head of the U.S. mil­i­tary,” Braf­man said. “One of my first ques­tions [to Dempsey] was ‘Is there a five-star gen­eral?’”

Dempsey brought Braf­man in to help the U.S. Army think and op­er­ate more like a net­worked or­ga­ni­za­tion. “We’d done a great job of push­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity to the edge, but we hadn’t done as a good a job at har­vest­ing the knowl­edge back,” Dempsey said. Braf­man came in and led se­nior lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment ex­er­cises with gen­er­als, as well as sem­i­nars and sym­po­siums for mi­dlevel of­fi­cers. He also helped Dempsey re­think the de­scrip­tion of one of the Army’s “warfight­ing func­tions.”

“Ori chal­lenged me on the idea of ‘com­mand and con­trol,’” Dempsey said, say­ing they re­vamped the de­scrip­tion as “mis­sion com­mand.”

“Think of it this way,” he said, “We cen­tral­ize the ‘what’ — what are we try­ing to ac­com­plish — but we de­cen­tral­ize the ‘how,’” giv­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity to lower-rank­ing of­fi­cers. Braf­man went on to work with each branch of the U.S. mil­i­tary.

“Rad­i­cal In­clu­sion” is aimed at a busi­ness au­di­ence, but Braf­man and Dempsey are not talk­ing about the kind of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion ini­tia­tives that many com­pa­nies are fond of pro­mot­ing. Rather, the term is used to de­scribe the lead­er­ship style needed in an era of what they call the “dig­i­tal echo,” when tech­nol­ogy is help­ing in­for­ma­tion pass between people ever more quickly but also help­ing it be­come more dis­torted in the process. “We think in­clu­sion is about cre­at­ing a sense of be­long­ing, and it’s a leader’s job is to trans­late an or­ga­ni­za­tional mis­sion — whether a mil­i­tary cam­paign or a mar­ket­ing cam­paign,” Braf­man said. “People have to have a sense that their par­tic­i­pa­tion mat­ters, and mat­ters to the over­all suc­cess of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The book dis­cusses why nar­ra­tives mat­ter and why lead­ers can’t con­trol as much, and then lays out six prin­ci­ples for mod­el­ing this style of lead­er­ship, such as help­ing teams to cre­ate mem­o­ries to foster a sense of be­long­ing.

With its fo­cus on in­clu­siv­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion, the book at times reads like a coun­ter­point to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s White House, which has been de­scribed as rife with war­ring fac­tions and in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing on the pres­i­dent’s gut in­stincts rather than his ad­vis­ers. “Solv­ing our prob­lem with an em­pha­sis on ex­clu­sion, jeal­ously hus­band­ing power and as­pir­ing to greater con­trol is pro­duc­ing sub­op­ti­mal, frag­ile and costly out­comes,” the two write in the book’s pref­ace.

But the au­thors said that was not in­ten­tional — the book was con­ceived and be­gun well be­fore Trump an­nounced his can­di­dacy — and even if some have asked them if the book was writ­ten to troll Trump, it wasn’t. Braf­man, who was born in Is­rael but grew up in Texas, said he found it “very, very wor­ri­some” that a book about in­clu­sion was seen as be­ing at odds with the U.S. pres­i­dent, but said Trump “has rec­og­nized a dif­fer­ent, chang­ing pol­i­tics,” one where “we’ve moved away from the age of de­bate, where a de­bate is ei­ther right or wrong, to the age of nar­ra­tives,” which are judged “by whether they’re bor­ing or in­ter­est­ing.”

Dempsey, mean­while, de­clined when asked to eval­u­ate the pres­i­dent’s lead­er­ship against the “in­stincts” de­scribed in the book, say­ing that as a mil­i­tary mem­ber, “even in re­tire­ment, part of the re­spon­si­bil­ity is that we’re seen as non­par­ti­san, and I take that re­spon­si­bil­ity very se­ri­ously.” He said, “I have had great re­spect for the pres­i­dents I’ve served,” but that “none of them have had ev­ery sin­gle one” of the “in­stincts” and lead­er­ship traits de­scribed in the book.

That doesn’t mean the two don’t hope their mes­sage over­all isn’t heard by the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers on both sides of the aisle. “If we con­tinue down a path po­lit­i­cally where the party in power acts ex­clu­sively in their in­ter­est and can’t find a way or doesn’t have an in­stinct to act in­clu­sively,” Dempsey said, “than we will end up with sub­op­ti­mal so­lu­tions to very com­plex prob­lems.”

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