Orders from the General. . . Leadership Advice from a Two-Star General: Rise Above. . . Use a Military Mindset for Success in Any Field

  • Published

Orders from the General. . . Leadership Advice from a Two-Star General: Rise Above. . . Use a Military Mindset for Success in Any Field by Major General Brent Baker, USA, Retired. Xlibrus Publishers, 2021, 206 pp. 

Before digging into the leadership lessons in Orders from the General. . .  Leadership Advice from a Two-Star General, it is important to understand a bit about the author.

Major General H. Brent Baker, USAF, retired, began his Air Force career as an enlisted Airman, where he served six years before commissioning through the Officer Training School Program. General Baker went on to serve 37 years and rose to the rank of major general. This is an important aspect to capture, as General Baker references his Mustang experience of both commissioned and enlisted service to shape his leadership philosophies.

The main structure of the book is centered on the author’s 50 “Leadership Tips” consisting of anecdotes and experiences that he provides to shape and provide clarity by using cases where he has shown the application of those tips. As with any leadership or self-help book, it is important to not consider the lessons or tips presented as the “golden bb” or “Holy Grail” where anyone can achieve success through the emulation of those lessons contained within. But the author admits this fact and instead proceeds to market the material as “tools in the toolkit” that can help a flexible and evolving leadership style within the context of the environment that the reader finds themselves in.

Many of the tips are common among any commander’s call speeches, the “bloom where you’re planted,” “grow your replacement,” or “just be yourself” adages come to mind as representative of that context.  Additionally, these tips alternate between deep and reflective such as “Go with your gut feeling” and other tips that are more pragmatic and logically based such as “Develop a decision matrix.” While I found most of the tips meaningful, I thought trying to explain 50 different aspects of leadership clouded the author’s message for the context of the stories and anecdotes. The adage, “if everything is important, then nothing is important” comes to mind, and I wish the author had centered on a few and expanded on his views of that lesson or advice instead of capturing a modicum of everything that he had experienced in his career.

If I could bin the lessons into broader categories, I believe that the ones that would rise to the top would be: to be positive and mindful, be a lifelong learner, practice situational leadership, and communicate. The other lessons, while important, were more practical and prescriptive in nature such as “Make a handwritten personal note to someone every workday.”

While not a bad idea, it is more directive in nature and may be harder for someone to emulate based on their personality. These lessons all seemed to center around key points in the author’s career, such as his time spent as an inspector general, J4 Staff, squadron commander at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, group commander at Kadena Air Base, Japan, leading a team for tsunami relief efforts in Japan, standing up the Air Force Global Logistics Support Center, and as a vice and eventually wing commander at Edwards Air Force Base, California. There were a few instances of his experience since he had retired working for a software company but those were largely eclipsed by what he presented as his military experiences.

One area that I disagreed with the author on was the commentary on the philosophy that a leader cannot or should not have a bad day or at least limit that perception. While this philosophy may have been important in the past when our leaders were viewed as stoic and perfect, it has had impacts on mental health and unachievable goals and may not translate to the Air Force culture we have today.

I would reference the work and discussions of another author, BrenĂ© Brown, where she speaks on the importance of showing vulnerability and humanity. While it should be done in context, I believe that there is value in showing emotions and underscoring areas of shortfalls. The author did comment on the aspect of creating a “leadership savings account” to deposit positivity and trust in to draw on during bad days, I disagree that this relationship must be transactional.

Additionally, the author referenced early in the work that the material was applicable across the board, including civilian leadership positions, but made several references to how his leadership style and approach was received within the military. The author included only a few examples of his leadership style outside of the military working for a civilian company, and I found those to be common examples that did not create a different perspective than most executive leadership approaches.

I believe that there is some material value, but readers could constrain themselves to read the tips in the back of the book and get the preponderance of the author's intent. If readers are in the military or have experience working with the military, they are unlikely to find anything that departs from a typical military structure. If the reader is a civilian and/or has limited or no experience working with the military, there is a caveat to the material that all these experiences may not apply directly. One example, and one that the author points out, is the commentary on the military’s value of diversity of experiences versus the civilian sector valuing continuity within an organization.

Overall, I believe that this was a good read, but much of the material is anecdotal and captures several common themes referenced throughout many commander’s calls and professional military education. For me, nothing that the author stated was groundbreaking or packaged in a different way that I had not experienced before as a military member. I did, however, appreciate reading the author’s variety of experience, especially in how it compares to my own Air Force journey as a prior-enlisted commissioned officer, and the value of carrying over the time as enlisted into an officer’s role.

Captain Jeffrey D. Golson, USAF