BLUF: Leadership in the Shadows is a great book and you should buy or at least borrow a copy. This is perhaps not unexpected, given the author. SGM Kyle Lamb (US Army Ret.) spent over 2 decades serving our country, including a long period in our country’s top counter-terrorism and special operations unit.1
Leadership in the Shadows
Your Weekend Read
We had some idea what to expect before the book came out. We were actually hiding in Kyle’s beard while he finished typing the first draft and he was kind enough to send some excerpts to our minions before it went to print. The result is better than we anticipated, but you should know in advance, this is not a military specific, “tactical leadership” book, not per se. If you’re looking for anecdotes of doorkickery and copies of op orders written in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re looking in the wrong place. Rather this is a distillation of lessons he learned personally and by observation over the course of an active and storied career. This is a Good Thing if you want to understand Paralysis through Analysis, Status and Entitlement vs. Merit and Productivity or such esoteric topics as selecting subordinates who require brakes vs. spurs. It’s not going to make you happy if you’re looking for an autobiographical account of the missions he ran with his unit.
“Many leaders want people working for them who give 110%, but only when the leader sees fit. Well, this isn’t the way it works. Most individuals who give 110% are always on. This being said, don’t be surprised if the performer gets into a little mischief when they are off duty as well. Remember, they are the ones who give 110% whether at work or play.”
Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t anecdotal examples and comparisons made to his time on the sharp end to provide context. There is, and plenty of it. All of it is mission driven, however, and used to get his point across. Kyle is a great raconteur, as anyone who had spent any time around him knows. However, he’s not one for long-winded tales of rescuing princesses and shooting insurgents in faraway desert lands.
When he relates a story from his experience in a chapter there’s a specific reason he chose that anecdote, and it’s always for some sort of illustrative qualities. This could an example drawing upon a time when, as an SGM, he was reviewing records for an individual’s promotion board to Sergeant First Class. It could be accomplished while recalling the actions and demeanor of Gen. Garrison in Mogadishu or recounting harsh lessons learned planning and executing an assault in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
The way he does this is simple and effective, and it’s one of the primary reasons we think civilian readers will benefit as much if not more from this book as military and LE personnel.
Tellingly, he is frequently self-critical in his explanations, giving the reader the opportunity to learn from (and not repeat) his mistakes.
Chapters include subjects like “The Bold Leader”, “Credibility”, “Avoiding Bureaucracy”, “Selecting Subordinates’, “Compliance vs. Commitment” and “Knowledge Dominance.” All are written each can be read separately as an independent lesson. In other words, you don’t have to read front to back, cover to cover to get the point. As Lamb says, “Every chapter is stand-alone. You can read it all at once or read it periodically while you’re on the shitter. Whatever.”
Unconsciously Incompetent Leading isn’t easy and you will absolutely not be successful if you are unconsciously incompetent. As leaders, we must be aware that there are unconsciously incompetent people operating in and around our battle space. You may have subordinates who fit into his category. Part of being successful as a leader is reading people. Unconsciously incompetent individuals must be sorted out quickly.
Unconsciously Competent It takes a tremendous amount of discipline for someone to remove themselves from their unconsciously competent mindset and dissect what they are doing in order to explain it to others. If you are able to unconsciously complete the leadership task at hand and teach your subordinates how to do the same, or at least elevate them to the consciously competent level, you are doing great things.
We’ve always liked Kyle Lamb and Viking Tactics. He is blunt, astute, and capable of hard, candid criticality on the range without being overbearing, condescending or a dick. That’s not a common trait in any instructor. This pragmatic but approachable mien is without a doubt one of his greatest strengths as a teacher and an author. He is a patriot in the classic sense of the word and is not one to cater to the kinder, gentler crowd (which we like).
Don’t bother training with him if you’re a man who is afraid to be a man, prefer skinny jeans and granola or eat something you killed. Do bother training with him and learn from him if you want to be a better NCO or leader.
If you are in a leadership position, read this book. If you want to attain a leadership position, read this book. If you want your teenage spawn to start learning leadership lessons early, make them read this book. It’s a rare opportunity to learn some life leadership lessons from a man who spent his life in extremis serving our country – and remember, some of those lessons were paid for with blood. That may sound melodramatic but it’s the simple fucking truth.
Note: read a review of Kyle’s Leadership in the Shadows seminar by a Green Beret here.
1No, we’re not talking Omega Force. Kyle has never invaded Canada (that we’re aware of).
Declare for Morning Wood!