On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis Book Summary

A significant motive in having lectures in history and reading books about historical instances is obtaining evidenced intellect and having lessons from past failures.

Leaders including King Xerxes of Persia, Rome’s Emperor Augustus, Lincoln, and FDR demonstrated either notable prescience or sightless myopia. From either instance, we can have lessons and obtain intellect. However, there is something to be certain: accomplished leaders are likely to hold some traits in common: being intelligent and versatile in utilizing the present resources in the greatest way to attain their aims.

A lot of the wisdom in this light has been sharped around the aged proverb of fox and hedgehog, and you will observe what the traits of these two can make us learn about great leadership.

In the following, you will learn about

  • the reasons why being over-foxy or over-hedgehog-y is not something to be desired;
  • the way Spain and the UK are distinct in leading American colonies; and
  • the way America assisted in constructing a Cold War foe.

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The greatest leaders level their big passionate vision with care and regard to details.

Isaiah Berlin, the fabled Oxford Prof., and Wolfson College President, at one time, classified authors by stating that, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”.

Berlin was contrasting two kinds of authors: hedgehogs, authors who owned a perspective focusing on one main idea around which all is pertinent, and foxes, authors who cared little details and viewed the world as a complicated area from various, even conflicting, perspectives.

For instance, Plato and Dostoevsky are hedgehogs with their dedication to a sole leading philosophy of life, on the other hand, Shakespeare and Joyce were foxes who thought life nowhere near black and white.

Berlin’s resemblance was rapidly enlarged upon by others to involve leaders of today. In this case, the hedgehog is thought of as a highly motivated, determined leader, while the fox is thought of as somebody who is alert and figures out all the impediments in their way.

With this resemblance, it happened to be obvious that the greatest leaders had a beneficial blend of fox and hedgehog attributes. The leaders at the ultimate ends of the spectrum were too alert or cannot observe the bigger view.

Think about the tale of two leaders with two distinct characteristics: King Xerxes of Persia, who could be attributed as a hedgehog, and his “fox” consultant Artabanus.

In 480 BC, these people were thinking of a potential attack on Greece. As a fox, Artabanus was alert and observed lots of impediments on the way. Therefore, he suggested against the attack and wanted to inform Xerxes that the trip was too lengthy and they would certainly consume up all the food and too tired to combat the powerful Greek army.

As a hedgehog, Xerxes was determined and brave in making decisions. According to him, they cannot win without risking something, therefore he refused Artabanus’s concerns and attacked. Artabanus turned out to be correct, as the Persians were too tired when they have finally encountered the Greek soldiers.

Artabanus may be right in this case, however, a leader needs to be careful with this attitude. There will be instances that a leader will need to be brave in his decisions, and if leaders would always be similar to Artabanus, they cannot act.

Therefore, the perfect leader is someone who has hedgehog and fox mixed – someone who can evaluate all the distinct perspectives while still can act bravely.

Abraham Lincoln was such type of a leader. He was precise to get the 13the Amendment approved to remove slavery and similar to a fox, he followed different aspects to attain this aim – involving wrongdoings, adulation, and sham.

The fox-hedgehog resemblance discloses the perfect attributes for forecasting correctly.

When Isaiah Berlin implemented the fox-hedgehog resemblance to different authors, it was only a joyful hall game. He was happy when he discovered that it was utilized for classifying historical leaders and other well-known people.

A larger implementation of Berlin’s resemblance was from the political psychologist, Philip E. Tetlock, who made a big research on specialist thoughts between 1988-2003.

Tetlock examined 27,451 forecasts about world politics from 284 specialists to decide which forecasts were correct and whether he could discover any important pattern in them. The specialist extended from professors, politicians, think tank people, and different other experts, that all possessed a range of political inclinations, as well as other attributes like positivity or negativity in their thinking.

Tetlock discovered that all these attributes were not important as a mark whether someone is correct or not in forecasting. The notably correct thing was the individuals’ self-identification of whether they are a fox or a hedgehog.

Essentially, the research demonstrated foxes to be much better at forecasting. This was because of the way foxes utilize different sources of knowledge in forecasting, in addition to the comprehension that politics is not a science.

Hedgehogs, in contrast, are overly dependent on reducing complexity, and in conclusion, their forecasts were observed to be as correct as a monkey throwing darts.

If you ask Tetlock, foxes were correct because they were modest and this allowed them to be wary and think about all possible variables before any judgment.

In contrast, hedgehogs were obstinate and it is unexpected for them to suspect from themselves, in other words, they were not flexible and less probable to be correct. But Tetlock realized that these hedgehog specialists were frequently famous in the media and TV programs. Because they had one great opinion, their words were more comprehensible – and thus more attractive – than the complicated opinions offered by foxes.

Therefore, the thing that started a fun chat opener ended up to be more scholarly beneficial than Berlin could have ever thought of!

Even though there are restrictions, with a powerful plan, good leaders can thrive. However, they must not allow power to distort their intellect.

In every part of history, power-greedy leaders have existed that sunk into their huge aspirations. However, we have also observed weak yet smart leaders who could make their aspirations real even though there are restrictions.

With a rational evaluation of their capabilities, a good leader can design a plan that benefits those capabilities to attain their aspired aim.

Think about Octavian, grandnephew of Julius Caesar and heir his heritage and tags. Notwithstanding his age, Octavian was intelligent sufficient to understand that his narrow military experience would not allow him to obtain big power as an epic militia general similar to his great-uncle Caesar. Rather, he defeated Rome’s soldiers with additional payments to his devoted soldiers.

Octavian also needed to deal with other famous rivals for the throne – Marc Antony and Lepidus – who had greater experience in politics and battle than he had. Octavian let them split up the empire and get the most wished areas while accepting to co-manage – he understood it was preferable to be a leader among three than none.

This status as one of the three leaders was excellent for Octavian to plan and attain his strength step by step by proceeding to use his mind. By remaining concentrated on and concerned about the impediments, he continued to be the first emperor of Rome, named Augustus.

However, with big power, everything threatens to happen to you – something that has caused many to collapse. This is the reason for good leaders to refrain from maintain battle as a means to obtain strength and fame.

As the martial theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, stated, a battle is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”. That needs to be its sole rationale; it must not be a tool to obtain power, which was something that caused the death of Napoleon.

Napoleon had the desire to show who is the boss to the Russian czar in 1812. Therefore, he wanted to rapidly invade Russia, beat its soldiers, and turn back home to France with victory before winter starts. Unfortunately, Napoleon’s desire for victory on the battleground did not function as he considered. He followed the Russian soldiers down the road to Moscow, just to see that the city was empty and had no munition.

With freeze already making them ill, there was no meaning in invading a deserted place with tired and unfed soldiers. Napoleon had to retreat for not allowing more deaths, however, the lengthy, freezing trip to France took thousands of lives.

However, was not Napoleon famed for being an excellent strategist? As the writer states, “Common sense is like oxygen: the higher you get the thinner it becomes.”. Napoleon’ was considering his earlier triumphs, it did not take long for him to be priced at his empire.

Flexibility produces steadiness.

You might be thinking a cue to powerful leadership is possessing loyal supporters. However, when those supporting your commands are alike people with unshakable obedience, it can be a cue to weakness. Because in some communities, it is precisely this case that builds a card house where a little endurance knocks it down.

This is exactly what occurred in Europe’s colonization of America, in which the leadership of Britain was seen to be more flexible, and thus more steady than Spain.

While Elizabeth I was controlling the American settlements during the sixteenth century, she owned a loose approach and would readily delegate if required. In conclusion, her subordinates were effectively involved with the natives of the settlements and were aligned with the thoughts of each city and district. In conclusion, they reached an involved and flexible administration system, would do transformations that are convenient for the district’s specific issues.

And there was Spain’s Philip II, who ruled settlements in a monotonous way – be it a type of devotion performed or the manner of managing. At that time, it was told that a man who comes from Lima could have a trip to Mexico City and feel at home.

Because the Spanish realm was not diverse and adaptable, any hint of uprising or distress could rapidly be extended like a fire through the settlements.

At the same time, if an issue happens in the British settlements, the closely exercised administration would resolve it readily without allowing it to extend.

This flexible administration also ensured that the US would be in a good condition to thrive after obtaining independence. Because of the complication of their method of administration, many working regional governments had been developed until independence, and this is the huge reason for the US to turn out the sole nation in the Americas skilled in successfully outfacing the Old World forces.

In contrast, the down of the Spanish realm left behind a perilous power gap in South America. Spain’s iron fist was so hard that nobody from the settlements could rule because of the lack of experience.

The unconventional Venezuelan leader, Simón Bolívar, told that this was a “political immaturity” because of the government of Spain. This caused the continent to become fragmented after obtaining independence, instead of being a “United States of Latin America” like its northern neighbors.

Concentrating a lot on short-term benefits can function against long-term benefits.

After learning about some cases from history, let’s return to Isaiah Berlin’s notion of the fox and the hedgehog. Is leadership as easy as these classifications put forward?

No, in truth, the majority of the people are somewhere in between these two ends. Our past demonstrates that even capable, fox strategy people have failed in their visions on existing choices and did mistakes similar to hedgehogs.

This is especially correct if leaders concentrate on short-term benefits that undermine long-term benefits – the type of mistake that can unintentionally make a potential rival powerful.

In World War I, for instance, the US and its counterparts persuaded Russia to stay in the battle. In conclusion, the Bolshevik resistance occurred, and in 1917, a successful revolution happened. A large piece of success was that Russia’s administrators were hurt substantially by the war.

Following the revolution, the USA, guided by Herbert Hoover, aided the fresh Russian administration with a relief scheme that assisted the country to pass through the drought of 1921-22. The USA also backed Stalin’s Five-Year Plan that included rapidly transforming his country into a global force by exporting all of the factories to Russia. Henry Ford’s innovative manufacturing methods involved.

Cynically, this caused the Cold War and the Soviet Union to be the leading enemy of the West, which showed the reason for a leader not to concentrate solely on immediate benefits and move by thinking long-term outcomes.

The strategy of Franklin D. Roosevelt with the Soviet Union was mainly concentrated on acting in collaboration to making the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan weak. Because of the geographical location, Russia could move like a dagger, not a flyover, and this was crucial. With this idea, FDR thought in 1933 that it would worth accepting USSR as a new nation because he could seek their help in the following times.

His strategies were long-term oriented and FDR was not shocked in 1939 when Hitler and Stalin agreed on a non-aggression pact. These two were hedgehogs. Thinking further on this first contract, he understood too that the absence of reverence between these two independent individuals would cause an ultimate fall of the contract. Of course, it crashed. Guess who was waiting there ready to admit the USSR when it crashed? FDR.

Franklin D. Roosevelt provides a good exemplification of a leader who could equilibrate the fox and hedgehog inside him. He owned his unshakable, one-way plan to passivate Germany and Japan, however, utilized a range of little, foxy actions to get nearer to that aim.

On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis Book Review

A specific way to be an achieved leader does not exist, however, history has a lot of instances that demonstrate to us that the greatest ones concentrate their focus on a great ultimate aim while looking for alternative ways in attaining it. They remain flexible to survive through unforeseen conditions, not allowing the possible issues to undermine their moves forward.

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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