A Military Leadership Notebook

A Military Leadership Notebook

Principles into Practice

Walter F. Ulmer Jr.

iUniverse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2017, 290 pages

Book Review published on: January 12, 2018

Many excellent leadership books have been published recently, but A Military Leadership Notebook: Principles into Practice tops the list. Leadership is a topic that just never gets old; it is always applicable and should always be of interest to military professionals. Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer’s latest work is one that I wish I had read forty years ago. This book is easy to read, logically organized, and illustrated with interesting (and humorous) real-life vignettes. While written for leaders in any organization, it references the most current Army doctrine, making it especially timely for military leaders.

Ulmer has led an extraordinary life that includes a remarkable thirty-three-year military career culminating in command of the III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. He retired in 1985 but jumped into the leadership teaching arena and served ten years as chief executive officer of the Center for Creative Leadership. He has remained involved in Army leadership issues to this day, and it is an understatement to say that his involvement continues to have a profound effect on Army leadership doctrine. For this reason alone, A Military Leadership Notebook remains highly relevant to military leaders.

Organized into seven “parts,” and subdivided into “notes” that are each a couple of pages long, Ulmer covers a number of leadership principles with concise means of putting them into practice. He makes seemingly complex leadership seem relatively simple. Each note is illustrated with pithy quotations to emphasize the points being made. Additionally, he frequently illustrates the points with self-deprecating humor and, for soldiers, stories that will resonate with “I’ve got that T-shirt” familiarity.

The real benefit of this book is the extensive charts (surveys or questionnaires) that leaders can use to improve both their performance and those of their organizations if the responses are truly honest. The charts range in subject matter from “Report to Self on Cutting Ethical Corners” (self-explanatory), to “The Policy Quiz” (used to determine if key members of the organization really know policies), and to “Climate Survey Sample Items” (used as traditional organizational climate surveys measure). Some charts require that the input come from different levels of the organization to obtain the widely differing perspectives of subordinates.

Supplementing the charts is the excellent “Leadership Assessment Tools,” located in appendix A. Appendix A contains eight “tools” that focus largely on, but not exclusively, climate issues in organizations. Appendix B advocates for a process to improve the selection of potential commanders. PCAP—potential commander assessment process—is described in a futuristic media interview. This is a fascinating idea that, if adopted by the Army’s leadership, might make a substantial contribution to selection of better quality leaders at the field grade level. Appendices C and D provide a detailed bibliography of sorts and are of immense value, especially for those who teach leadership.

Ulmer’s book has some powerful endorsements from those who have also proven their mettle on the battlefields, as well as leading large organizations successfully. It is a shame for many in my generation that this book was not available for us, but there is no excuse for those who are just beginning their rise through the leadership ranks not to read this book. If it were within my purview, I would issue it to every newly commissioned officer.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Edwin L. Kennedy Jr., U.S. Army, Retired, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama