Title: Leaders: Myth and Reality

Author: General Stanley McChrystal

Review by: Mark Becker, President, Georgia State University

Mark Becker

What drew me to this book is the subtitle, not the title. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is now a senior fellow at Yale University, and I have heard him speak, so I knew about his previous books and his personal experience as a leader on the battlefield and beyond. 

This book, however, intrigued me because it promised to be a candid examination of leadership by exploding myths using mini-biographies of 13 notable figures from history. These were organized by leader “types”: Marble Man, Founders, Geniuses, Zealots, Heroes, Power Brokers and Reformers.

I found the diversity of individual leaders chosen particularly compelling: Robert E. Lee, Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Maximilian Robespierre, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Zheng He, Harriet Tubman, Boss Tweed, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Leadership is an ever-present topic of conversation and study in my line of work: higher education. We at Georgia State have academic programs devoted to preparing students for careers as leaders and leadership-development programs for faculty and staff. Very often, individuals engage me in conversation wanting to know how to become a leader and what to do when asked to lead. The questions are straightforward; the answers are not.

McChrystal’s book does not provide a formula, nor easy answers to the questions I’m often asked. It does, however, tackle head on the challenges of the so-called “Great Man” theory of leadership, and it provides a framework for thinking about types of leaders, as well as the circumstances and context that accompany effective leadership.

The biographies complemented and enhanced my understanding of leaders I know, as well as other historical figures I have studied. Furthermore, McChrystal’s nuanced examination of the context of leadership helped me to more deeply reflect on my own career and how I lead.

With all of this as background, I expect to be better able to mentor and advise those who aspire to leadership, as well as those who may be chosen to lead even though that may not be their focus.

Read Dr. Becker’s previous reviews:

Books 2017: Mastering the Art of Suffering, On Peaks and In Life

Books 2016: An Appalachian Memoir That Helps Explain Endemic Poverty, Trump’s Rise

Books 2015: On Leadership, Altitude Is Everything for Georgia State President

Books 2014: A Vivid Fictional Window Into North Korea

Books 2013: Tackling the World’s Toughest Peak

Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2010. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.