Leadership Cover


The Art of Inspiring People to Be Their Best

Craig B. Wheldon

New Insights Press, Los Angeles, 2019, 186 pages

Book Review published on: June 26, 2020

In his book Leadership: The Art of Inspiring People to Be Their Best, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Craig Wheldon shares practical insights on leadership that he gleaned during thirty years as an Army officer, several years in the private sector, and nine years as a Senior Executive Service civilian in the U.S. Marine Corps. The title of the book highlights the author’s intent: to provide word pictures of leadership lessons that can help people reach their full leadership potential. Wheldon has great credentials to write a book on leadership, having led thousands of soldiers and civilians over five decades, culminating with sixteen years executive level leadership as a general officer and Senior Executive Service civilian.

In twenty-four short, yet well-organized chapters, Wheldon takes the reader on a leadership journey. He does an excellent job of highlighting leadership principles that distinguish exceptional leaders from average leaders. He does not overly rely on his own experience but also reflects on leadership lessons he gleaned through observations and interactions with highly effective civilian and military leaders, such as former Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.

One key leadership observation Wheldon addresses is the importance of character, which he describes as a “foundational element of the very best leaders.” He also views ambition and perseverance as critical elements of character. Ambition being the quality that propels one to want to succeed, while perseverance challenges one to face difficult obstacles and not give up. He surmises that most successful leaders will possess ambition and perseverance. A second area the author states is essential to exceptional leadership is trust. Wheldon asserts trusting people is important because the success of a mission, goal, or vision depends on the people one leads. He argues that people will perform at their peak when the leader gives them responsibility and entrusts them to accomplish a task. Leaders have to trust the people they are leading in both words and deeds. A third topic Wheldon discusses is the importance of mentoring. He indicates that great leaders “have a responsibility” to mentor other people because mentoring is critical to “learning about leadership.” One type of mentoring approach he addresses is “virtual mentorship.” This type of mentoring is an indirect form of mentoring that involves observing a leader that one has regular interaction with and then adopting some of the practices that one finds useful or of value. This is an approach that all leaders can adopt.

One of the most intriguing discussions in this book is the chapter on “What Rocks Are in Your Jar.” This chapter is about establishing priorities in one’s life. Wheldon recounts a story involving a professor, his students, and a jar full of rocks. The professor asks the students if the jar is full, and many reply yes. The professor pours small pebbles into the jar and asks the same question. Next, he pours water into the jar. The professor informs the students that the rocks represent “what is most important in life” and one has to put the rocks in the jar first. If one fills the jar with the other objects first, there would not be room for the rocks. The rocks represent family, faith, a career, etc. Wheldon indicates it is important for leaders to determine the most important things in life that will help sustain them during their lifetime. Wheldon’s focus is his family because the family will be there years after he leaves an organization and possibly a career.

Although this book addresses many leadership topics, it might not discuss those topics to the level of detail some readers might expect. People who are looking for a formula on how to be a better leader might not find one in this book; however, Wheldon does provide excellent leadership tips and practical insights into becoming a better leader. He wrote this book mostly from a military perspective and his background as a leader in the military; therefore, some people who are unfamiliar with the military may not be able to relate to some of the topics and may find some of the material unexciting.

Leadership: The Art of Inspiring People to Be Their Best is an excellent selection for both inexperienced and experienced leaders. Leadership is about inspiring others to reach their full potential. Wheldon covers a wide range of topics, vignettes, and insights that are designed to help others reach their full leadership potential.

Book Review written by: Calvin Owens, Fort Gordon, Georgia