The Navy Seal Art Of War: Leadership Lessons From The World’s Most Elite Fighting Force, by Rob Roy with Chris Larson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Crown Business Press in exchange for an honest review.]
This book aspires to be remembered at the same level and with the same fondness as Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Clausewitz, which is an extremely tall order. It has a cover that is very inspired by the East Asian military classics, its contents are filled with aphorisms and short stories, and it is written with the sort of exuberance that leads the author to claim for the SEALs anyone who shows himself to be of like mind and spirit. This could have been annoying in less skillful hands, but as it was it seemed both a sign of the author’s passionate loyalty to the SEAL ethic, and as funny. Indeed, this short book (just over 200 pages) is full of a great deal of humor as well as insight, which helps its discussion to read far easier than it might otherwise.
In terms of its contents, this book is made up of 53 or so short chapters that average less than four pages apiece. Many of these principles are unsurprising from any contemporary book on management. The ideas discussed in this book range from servant leadership to the importance of trust and clear and concise communication, as well as operational flexibility and empowerment of others. These fairly standard thoughts among good management books are enriched with the discussions of the author’s own consulting work in bringing a bit of the SEAL experience to executives and managers, and also some discussions of the background of the SEAL and American military culture in general. These discussions are full of organizational pride and a lot of focus on teamwork and the importance of having a determined will that refuses to give up.
The fact that this book is so good is remarkable, given that a deeper reflection of its materials leads a reader to concern. After all, I read this book for a business publisher, despite the fact that its contents would have been entirely appropriate from any of the military history journals I review books for. Over and over again this book compares business to war. Executives quoted in the book and the author explicitly, and repeatedly, compare the rough world of business to the world of military conflict. This is a bit of a concern, both that businesses feel so insecure about survival that they view rivals thorough a militaristic standpoint, as well as the fact that the virtues discussed in this book spring from a conception of weakness for business rather than from strength. It is one thing to give and seek freedom to fail, and to seek to find the best ways to overcome weakness and vulnerability in a dangerous world. All of that I understand, all too well, but generally while times of trial are those where we are most open to painful and necessary changes, it is difficult to make moves for the long term when the pressures of the short term seem so intense and troublesome. This is a book to appreciate, especially if one can implement its wise suggestions before a crisis comes.