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Leaders: Myth and Reality

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  839 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Leadership is not what you think it is--and it never was.

Stan McChrystal served for thirty-four years in the US Army, rising from a second lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division to a four-star general, in command of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. During those years he worked with countless leaders, at every level of effectiveness, and pondered an ancie
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published October 23rd 2018 by Portfolio
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Leadership Leads To Disappointment

Most of the book simply describes the lives of several leaders without making many points. I believe a much better format would have been to make a comment about leadership and then back it up with examples. I have read over a dozen books on leadership while researching my dissertation that were much better in making their points.
Josh Martin
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Leaders is a deeper look into the definitions and perceptions of leadership in the modern age. It is written by a highly conventionally trained leader - Gen Stan McChrystal. The book was written in an effort to understand leadership and approached the task by profiling 6 sets of historical leaders. For each person, the book discusses how each came to arrive at their leadership positions and the tools and traits they used to successfully navigate their roles.

They are presented in the following se
Ronald Golden
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book was not what I expected. I have read several go Gen. McChrystal’s books including “Team of Teams” and “My Share of the Task.” Both of which I found to be compelling descriptions of leadership in action. I expected this book to be another in that framework. It was not. “Leaders, Myth and Reality” examines the myth of leadership by examining and comparing 13 different leaders in categories such as reformers, geniuses, founders and zealots. I never thought when I opened this book tha ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was ok. Interesting mini-biographies of 12 important leaders. However the writing wasn’t very polished (several frustrating typos which I would have expected to have been caught by a general).

His most interesting insight, which he made persuasively, and which I find most compelling given his combat experience, was that leaders are not solely judged by their results. Instead, leaders function as much as symbols than as decision makers. We can trick ourselves into believing the “results
Jonathan Tennis
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Stan McChrystal served for thirty-four years in the US Army retiring as a four-star General. At some point, he learned a thing or two about leadership. And that’s what makes this book so great is that he explains that no matter what he’s learned, there’s still more to learn. He spends the entire book trying to answer the question: “What makes a leader great?” This book has it all and is a dense, but enjoyable read. I picked it up because I was curious what he had to say and learned a lot about W ...more
George P.
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
What is leadership? John Maxwell’s definition is the most common answer: “Leadership is influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In their new book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone identify three myths people believe about leaders and offer a more complex definition of leadership. Somewhat ironically for a book that criticizes leader-centricity, Leadersreaches its conclusions by examini ...more
William Bahr
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A leading-edge book on leadership!

first became acquainted with this book when I read McChrystal’s excellent article in “The Atlantic” criticizing one of my heroes, Robert E. Lee. Intrigued, I checked his book out of my public library to update my own books on strategy and leadership through character, especially as demonstrated in the French Revolution. Given the many interesting points made (I paper-clipped about 40 pages in the library book) especially a few about Robespierre, I probably shou
Remo Biagioni
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is different to most books on leadership I've read. General McChrystal's pedigree is first class; I'd expected to pick up a few hints and tips on how to lead from one of the US' greatest military leaders. I didn't get that: I got something much, much better. The book, like many others, offers leadership lessons by examining the lives of historical figures. Where the book starts to depart from the mainstream is the choice of leaders including Einstein, Channel, Disney and Robespierre. The au ...more
Saul Villarreal
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great review of 13 leaders—some giants of history, some merely footnotes. Stanley McChrystal takes a deep dive into the myth vs reality of leadership and dispels many assumptions we tend to make about the importance of the individual in getting to desired outcomes.
Aaron Cash
Jan 10, 2020 rated it liked it
It was ok, not quite my style of leadership lessons.
Devon Aguirre
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book didn’t have enough new knowledge especially considering the author. It was just a history of randomly selected leaders.
Scott Wozniak
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s mostly not a leadership book. This is 80% biographies of notable figures. There are some very brief comments about their leadership at the end of the chapter-long biography of each leader, but it’s not until the last chapter of the book that we get an entire section on leadership ideas. And even then, he’s more into the importance of the system than the leader alone. But the biographies are good (he even includes the biography of one of his war enemies) and it was well written (style was sm ...more
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Didn’t finish. Brief histories of leaders with immaterial new research or context added. Unclear why McChrystal put his name on this given the excellence of his previous efforts such as Team of Teams.
Randall Thomas
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
While well written, its obvious that General McChrystal has surrendered to political correctness - from his decision to trash General Lee to his statement that Leadership Studies have suffered due to the Patriarchy. While the various biographical sketches were interesting and informative, his reasoning for some of the choices and their contributions to "leadership" are somewhat questionable, especially when he lauds them for for the same things he faults General Lee for, such as their willingnes ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-gonna-finish
I loved the idea of this book from the descriptions and the intro and was very excited about digging in. I was also particularly fascinated by the author's perspective on Lee, which he'd discussed in a smaller cut in an Atlantic article.

I was thus nonplussed to discover that the big "rethink" about Lee seemed to include not much...thought. If anything it seemed like a long discussion of why the author actually still reveres Lee, and no longer does so openly for political reasons. I'd hoped for a
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Call it 2.75 stars. I need some more time to reflect, but my initial reaction was the book felt like a collection of HBR articles and not a flowing leadership tome. Certainly an eclectic list of leaders to write about, I also struggled with the underlying thread that brought it all together. I’m a huge fan of Team of Teams, and this did not meet the mark.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I owe this book a reading of the last couple chapters. The audiobook didn't allow me to sit with the ideas presented long enough to digest the conclusion. I think a reread of these chapters will provide a lot more insight into the overall premise.

I think the book missed an opportunity to elaborate a little on the leadership of each individual at the end of their chapter. Instead, the authors saved it all to the end. I also felt that their was an attempt to gloss over character flaws of individua
Feb 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: waiting-reading
Didn't finish, had some good advice, but got very boring with some authors.

What the book is lacking, is the clear path that it tries to walk the reader in to.
Daniella Young
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the latest book by General (Ret) Stanley McChrystal’s traditional concepts of leadership are turned on their head. As a leader who was himself mythologized and vilified in turn, McChrystal takes a close, personal look at the myth of leadership and how it has impacted the modern world throughout history. McChrystal walks us through profiles of 12 leaders, each grouped into a category: The Founders, The Geniuses, The Zealots, The Heroes, The Power Brokers and The Reformers. The 13th leader stan ...more
Scott Martin
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
(Audiobook) A good read from a man who has had significant experience studying and practicing leadership in his professional career as soldier. This book attempts to pattern itself off of Plutarch’s famous comparative works on various leaders in Ancient Greece/Rome, attempting to balance the myth and reality of those individuals. McCrystal tries to create a sort of modern version of this, comparing and contrasting a series of leaders across modern times. There is an outlier in his individual ana ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
DNF Pages Read 191/408

Leaders: Myth and Reality has a good premise for discussing leadership: Let's take a bunch of historical figures and discuss how they lead. Let's use them to talk about the myths people build around famous leaders. The problem is that, if you don't know the chosen individuals and their histories before going into this, then I'm not sure you're going to get much out of it.

Each "discussion" of a leader is little more than a whirlwind biography that covers the person's whole l
Brasukra Sudjana
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting angle to the leadership literature, mainly pointing out that leadership might not be learned, emulated, or results-oriented. I also like the fact that the book speaks not only to leader-wannabes, but also to followers. I take the following three lessons:

1. You don't need to aim for a leadership position. Many leaders were selected, elected or appointed to their positions almost by accident. Martin Luther King, Zarqawi, Robespierre, Zheng He were clear cases. Einstein and Harriet Tubm
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: leadership
Leadership is a challenging topic to tackle when there are hundreds of books all claiming to have captured its ever elusive essence. I picked this book up because I was impressed with GEN (R) McChrystal's previous book "Team of Teams" and thought I'd see what he had to say.

Using the biographical dialectic format GEN McChrystal illustrates the challenges of defining leaders by contrasting historical examples into leadership categories: Geniuses, Zealots, Heroes, Reformers etc. This is crucial to
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
The General McChrystal takes a classical approach to leadership books by emulating the style of Plutarch's Lives, where the author presents famous individuals as case studies from which the reader is to glean any useful leadership character traits or attributes. The book diverts from Plutarch's style in several notable ways, for instance not all the leaders actions presented are worthy to emulate and many of the leaders are outright fowl people overall. Two such infamous individuals are New York ...more
Chad Manske
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Unlike other McChrystal book offerings, this work—co-written with Jason Mangone and Jeff Eggers—uses Plutarch’s Lives as a foundation for a biographical leadership study attempting to parse leadership myths from realities. In so doing they tackle pairs of famous people, ascribing leadership attributes to the conduct of their lives to communicate their thesis. The pairs—Walt Disney and Coco Chanel, Maximilian Robespierre and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Boss Tweed and Margaret Thatcher, and finally, Mar ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it liked it
“No leader, or hero, exists independent of the context beyond their control...Leadership is not magic, and it is an alluring illusion that there are individual heroes. Rather, the apparent magic stems from the alignment of the right person at the right time, surrounded by a group of people who both enable their activities and find meaning in what someone like [them] offers...What we call “leadership” is often some combination of the leader’s actions, along with serendipity or other contextual fa ...more
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! After the first 10% I was concerned, thinking "is this going to be another book where they simply try to be negative about various people, tearing down instead of being balanced", and I'm happy to say that wasn't this book at all.

It humanized 10 to 15 major people throughout history, so each chapter felt like an abridged biography on an someone interesting. Considering I love biographies, this was right up my alley. It celebrated their uniqueness while admitting to some of th
Hemanth N
Nov 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Even though book takes us over many peoples lives and their leadership perspective, the book lacks depth:

• The baton, iconic symbol of conductor’s authority, was matter of physics. The larger halls produced an echo effect that means platers had to ignore the sound of the music and instead look at conductor’s rhythmic baton to achieve unity
• Formulaic myth, reflects the desire to tame leadership into static checklist, notwithstanding the reality the leadership is contextual and always depended up
Fukky Tantang
May 10, 2021 rated it it was ok
This books goes on a very long winded way to explain that there is no one way to lead (which I agree). That leaders are but one node within an ecosystem. My issue with this book is not with the message but with the delivery. The attempt to compare/style this book to Plutarch's Lives is unnecessary and make the book verbose. For those who do not wish to spend 12 hours reading this book, the first and ninth and tenth chapter makes excellent reading.

I also do not think many of the profiled charact
Matt Heavner
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Primarily, this book is leadership focused biographies of a range of different types of leaders. Not what I was expecting, but after I read it, I enjoyed learning more about several of the people I really didn't know anything about (Coco Chanel, for example!). The bios weren't really in depth (I've read much more about Einstein and didn't get much from that part). It was an interesting collection and the commentary that was sprinkled throughout and especially at the end of the collection was rea ...more
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Stanley Allen McChrystal (born August 14, 1954) is a retired United States Army General. His last assignment was as Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A). He previously served as Director, Joint Staff from August 2008 to June 2009 and as Commander, Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008, where he was credited with the ...more

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