Four leadership takeaways from Call Sign Chaos

Cover of Call Sign Chaos by Jim Mattis

Marine general and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, writes about leadership in his book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

The call sign “CHAOS” itself stood for, “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution.” It was given when Mattis was leading the Marines in invading Afghanistan in 2001. While tongue-in-cheek, it was a testament to Mattis’ solution-oriented ways.

Here are four quick takeaways:

  1. Read

The book is filled with quotes from Mattis’ own reading. During the invasion of Afghanistan, the only others who had faced similar situations were generals from ancient history. Luckily they, or someone else, had written about it. He says, “[reading] doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.” He’s shared his top list of reads.

2. Respect junior team members

Earning the respect and trust of junior team members means they will carry out the mission, even in peril. Mattis went to bat for junior team members, writing a strongly worded letter to his higher ups to ensure his men received the awards he believed they had earned.

3. Give clear orders

The commander’s intent is a memo written to inform subordinate officers of orders. It provides the overarching themes, spirit and motivation behind an operation. The book includes a number of these memos, with original wording. Mattis mentions that once the plan deviates from the commander’s intent, it’s time to reevaluate and get back on track.

4. Place the greater good over your own benefit

Mattis was put in charge of United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), the mandate for which was to decide where money, training and development for all military capabilities should be focused. Mattis was tasked with finding cost savings within all branches of the military. His ultimate recommendation was to disband JFCOM itself, essentially putting himself out of a job.

Mattis would say that there is no single leadership trait. It’s part of a package. He would also probably say the best thing a leader can do is to always be prepared to face action.