General David Petraeus’s Rules for Living

Pete Marovich / ZUMA Press

1. Lead by example from the front of the formation. Take your performance personally—if you are proud to be average, so too will be your troops.

2. A leader must provide a vision—clear and achievable “big ideas” combined in a strategic concept—and communicate those ideas throughout the entire organi­zation and to all other stakeholders.

3. A leader needs to give energy; don’t be an oxygen thief.

4. There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and poli­cy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to ex­plain why they made them.

5. We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear­ view mirrors—drive on and avoid making them again.

6. Be humble. The people you’ll be lead­ing already have on-the-ground conflict experience. “Listen and learn.”

7. Be a team player. “Your team’s triumphs and failures will, obviously, be yours.” Take ownership of both.

8. Don’t rely on rank. If you rely on rank, rather than on the persuasiveness of your logic, the problem could be you and either your thinking or your com­munication skills. Likewise, sometimes the best ideas come from bottom-up information sharing (i.e., “Need to share” not “Need to know”). Use “direct­ed telescopes” to improve situational awareness.

9. Leaders should be thoughtful but deci­sive. Listen to subordinates’ input, evaluate courses of action and second- and third-order effects, but be OK with an “80 per­cent solution.” “There will be many moments when all eyes turn to you for a decision. Be prepared for them. Don’t shrink from them. Embrace them.” Some­times the best move is the bold move.

10. Stay fit to fight. Your body is your ulti­mate weapons system. Physical fitness for your body is essential for mental fitness.

11. The only thing better than a little com­petition is a lot of competition. Set chal­lenges for your subordinates to encourage them to excel.

12. Everyone on the team is mission criti­cal. Instill in your team members a sense of great self-worth—that each, at any given time, can be the most important on the battlefield.

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