Preparing Strategic Leaders (Part 1)

By | July 24, 2020

[July 24, 2020]  As we look across the landscape of successful senior leaders, there are common threads that are worth investigating.  Whether such leaders were developed long ago or today and regardless of where they originate, their journeys are not that different.  This two-part mini-series explores those similarities of strategic leaders, how they think, and what they see.

Any study of great leaders is no small task.  Reducing the concepts of complex, successful leadership is fraught with potential bias and error.  Of course, I take responsibility for any mistakes made.  However, having known many senior military and political leaders while they were doing their jobs has allowed me to observe them real-time, in their environment. At the time, they were making history.  I was fortunate to be there.

Lessons from these great men and women are many; I will point to three impactful facets of their leadership that stand out for me.  What separates these from all the others is their consistency and commonality.  Like the often told meta-story, the preparation of a strategic leader follows a familiar path.  I also use my study of recent historical figures to augment and reinforce my own observations.

Each of these strategic leaders had a lifetime of study and diverse leader experiences, were able to anticipate key future events, and recognized and developed their subordinates.  We are all fortunate that many historians saw and wrote in detail about famous leaders and had their works scrutinized and challenged to ensure its accuracy.

I am not the first to see this pattern.  For example, British PM Churchill, U.S. General Eisenhower, and President Roosevelt, historians wrote that these men grew as a result of what they saw, how they read and studied and thought, and when they lived.

First, while there is no model for developing strategic wisdom, we do know that through combining demanding experiences with a lifetime of intensive self-study.  In his book The Last Lion, William Manchester tells the story of Churchill’s journey from a lonely childhood to the leader of Great Britain. He paints a detailed and compelling full picture for the reader of one of history’s greatest statesmen.  Churchill provides a mold of developing a strategic thinker based upon his life first as a junior military Infantry officer.

A critical insight from Churchill’s career is that strategic leaders are continually preparing and reassessing.  Those leaders undoubtedly have missteps along the way.  Manchester’s description of Churchill’s conviction and preparation in his times of struggle helps us understand how he rallied the British public in their time of crisis.  Churchill has a lifetime of experiences to fall back on, and it was his relentless pursuit of self-preparation that equipped him for his service as Prime Minister when his country needed him most.1

Tomorrow, I will discuss the second and third similarity of the most significant strategic leaders of our time.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Preparing Strategic Leaders (Part 1)

  1. Bryan Lee

    A great article, Gen. Satterfield and your Part 2 really brings it all together. What I liked about you doing a two-part series is that it allows you to go into greater detail. Sometimes a short article is just not enough.

    1. Martin Shiell

      Bryan, yes, I agree IMO. Make recommendations and we can all benefit.

  2. the ace

    Hi Gen. Satterfield, this is shaping up to be a great job and insightful as well. Thanks again for making me think. My favorite part is that great strategic leaders develop subordinates. That means given them a chance to fail without being destroyed.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Well said, the ace. That’s why I keep this website on my favorites bar. Daily reading for me.

    2. Dennis Mathes

      Good one, ace. Thanks. Same here. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s final part to this long-awaited article.

      1. Stacey Borden

        Yes, and I can say that the last article was a great ending to the short series. As others have suggested, we all can get together to make future recommendations for Gen. Satterfield and suggest a path in which he can show us the “thinking” of other great leaders for us to emulate.

    1. Tony B. Custer

      Yes, loved it. How stupid can you get. But, alas, it’s their team and if they want to call themselves the Pink Flamingos then all the power to them. It’s a free country, at least so far and as long as the progressive whackos don’t get to be in charge. Then your rights disappear and will be given to illegal aliens. Well, I do exaggerate a bit – ha ha. But seriously, folks, who would name their team this?

  3. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, well written and, of course, you made me think.

  4. Benny

    This article and hopefully part two are going to be the best thinking article in a while.

  5. Joe Omerrod

    Gen. Satterfield, you say that there is no “model” for developing strategic wisdom. I’m not so sure. Certainly, the model would be very generic but in fact I think you’ve identified one here. Or, at least have the outline for one. Your next article, Part 2, will help flush this out. I look forward to reading it. 👍👍👍👍 Four thumbs-up, so far!

    1. Kenny Foster

      Yes, let’s wait for Part 2 but today’s blog post is a great start.

  6. Eric Coda

    “Each of these strategic leaders had a lifetime of study and diverse leader experiences.”
    The problem with this is in two parts: 1) We have a zero failure policy that discourages reasonable risk taking. 2) Since we are already better than others, why bother with experience and study? That attitude is the very problem that will haunt our society for a long long time.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Yes Eric. Well said. It is unfortunate that our higher levels of education are not really educating anymore but are indoctrinating us (the wrong way IMHO). Thanks and keep up this level of analysis. Your comments augment what Gen. Satterfield has written.

  7. Ed Berkmeister

    Who are the historians you reference, Gen. Satterfield?

  8. Army Captain

    Excellent article and spot on with your analysis. I can’t wait for tomorrow to read the second part of your blog post. It is important for me to understand the development of strategic leaders because I would like to be one some day.

    1. Max Foster

      Army Captain, that is the exact problem I see with young folks today. They don’t aspire to be something better than they already are because (hold your breath for the answer …..) they are already superior to everyone else. Just look at colleges and universities and all the rioting thru out the USA. They know better than us. So why improve yourself when you are already the most morally superior human around?

      1. JT Patterson

        Excellent point, Max and also a common theme here in Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog.

      2. Greg Heyman

        We must instill humbleness into others through logic and emotion. The easy way out of being a good person is to think you are better than everyone else. That is why sports in schools is so important… you get to lose games when you don’t work hard to be better than others.

        1. Willie Shrumburger

          Right, someone will always be better than you, better looking, smarter, faster, kindler, gentler, etc. Don’t get too excited about it.

    1. Doug Smith

      You got that right. Hi Yusaf, hope you’ve been well. I’ve been laying low from the COVID 19 virus. Now with an extra 10 pounds, I’m a little slower but I do get more reading done.


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