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    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-24 – Dr. Tami Davis Biddle – “Character Traits Strategic Leaders Need”

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-24 – Dr. Tami Davis Biddle – “Character Traits Strategic Leaders Need”

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    Audio by Kristen Taylor 

    U.S. Army War College Public Affairs

    Strategic leaders must possess a range of skills to work successfully in complex environments. To use those skills to best effect, they rely on character traits that enhance the likelihood of their effectiveness as leaders and maximize their success when working in teams. Certain character traits facilitate work in demanding settings that rely heavily on communication, integration, and cooperation. Programs designed to educate senior leaders must help future national security professionals identify these character traits and then practice and hone them. Highlighting individuals with challenging roles in World War II, this podcast analyzes the character traits that enabled them to succeed in their work.

    Read the article:

    Episode Transcript:

    Stephanie Crider (Host)

    Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.

    The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the podcast guests and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

    Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Tami Davis Biddle, author of “Character Traits Strategic Leaders Need,” which was featured in the Parameters summer 2022 issue. Biddle retired as the Elihu Root chair of military studies at the US Army War College, where she’s now a distinguished fellow. She’s written extensively on military history, airpower, and strategy. The author of Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare (2002), she is currently writing Taking Command: The United States in the Second World War for Oxford University Press.

    Welcome to Decisive Point, Tami, I’m really glad you’re here.

    (Tami Davis Biddle)
    I’m delighted to be here, Stephanie. Thank you.

    Let’s talk about your article. You open with a statement that might not occur to many people. Security professionals engage in activities that are intensely analytical, but also intensely human. Students of strategy, therefore, must develop an understanding of decision making and its pathologies and must comprehend the role of cognitive psychology in that process. What does this look like in real life?

    This comes out of my experience and teaching for a long time and teaching war college-level students for two decades. And I realized that they have an opportunity at . . . especially at the beginning of the year to stop and really do some intentional thinking about how they process information and about how they think and how they articulate ideas. And one of the things that I think is terribly important is for them to understand the background influences on their thinking; the institutional influences on them; even the influences of other individuals, mentors, family the way that they’ve been brought up to see the world and the way that their experiences have shaped their perception of the world.

    Because if they can understand that, they’re in a much better position to think clearly, to think analytically, and to understand where their biases or their predilections or their . . . even their prejudices might be influencing the way that they think about the world and therefore interfering, potentially, with strategic thinking and strategic decisions or analytical thinking.

    So I felt it was really important to start students off with a emphasis on greater self-awareness and greater self-awareness about the process of thought and discussion. Understanding those and being able to be aware of those is super important, I think, for students and for helping them to understand how to interact with others and how to do the best possible strategic thinking that gets them sometimes out of their own heads and enables them to see the perspectives of others and develop empathy and to not simply be prisoners to their own biases or their own predilections.

    There are so many rich examples in your article. Let’s hit some of the highlights.



    Who’s Harry Hopkins? And what qualities did he exemplify?

    Oh, Harry Hopkins is such an interesting character. He was the leading adviser, the closest adviser, and the most trusted adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). They met in 1928 during, basically, FDR’s campaign for the governor of New York, and then they worked together pretty much consistently from that time onward. And of course, when FDR became president, it was in the height of the Great Depression, and the most important thing to do, or he felt that he had to do, was to improve the lives of Americans. To help people who were destitute, who didn’t have work, to try to find useful work to restore their pride, to get the economy back up and on its feet and going again, and to help Americans just basically regain their self-confidence.

    And Harry Hopkins was, it turned out, exactly the right man to do that. He thought like the president. He had been basically a social worker. He went to Grinnell College, he came to New York City, he saw people who were struggling on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He became committed to helping them, and then, when the financial crisis occurred, he had some experience. So he was in a perfect position to help the president understand how to move forward.

    He became head of the Works Progress Administration and was crucially important in that role, and, also, this was kind of a first for the country. Really, the idea that a state has responsibility for its citizens was still pretty new in the 1920s and 1930s, but it’s an idea that FDR promoted and believed in deeply, and Harry Hopkins shared that belief. And so, they were a great team and they worked together on the New Deal. They tried to restore American confidence and American dignity for working people. And then, when (Adolf) Hitler became the chancellor and then became increasingly powerful in Germany, and then when the Second World War began in Europe, they worked together as a team once more. And they were working in a realm that was fairly new to Hopkins. In particular, he didn’t start out as a foreign policy analyst, but one of his great strengths was to learn quickly and to know exactly what is most important. And he recognized the crisis facing the world because of Hitler and because of fascism was the most important issue.

    And he helped FDR keep that uppermost, and then he became a tremendous . . . basically, communicator for FDR. Because the president had polio and because he had limited mobility, he couldn’t often go and do the things that a modern president who has full mobility can do. So Harry Hopkins became the eyes and ears and the arms and the legs of FDR. And he went and met with very important people. He met with (Winston) Churchill early on in January of 1941. This was right after—obviously, Britain had been fighting alone in 1940, and Britain was in pretty desperate straits. The US wasn’t in the war yet, and we were trying to figure out ways—at least, FDR was—trying to figure out ways to help the British. And Hopkins ended up playing a really crucial role in that—figuring out, first of all, that Britain was in fact going to stay in the fight. Essentially, when FDR sent Hopkins over to Britain in 1941, early in ‘41, it was to find out if Britain was going to manage, if Britain was going to be able to stay in the fight, because many Americans like Joseph Kennedy were saying, “No, Britain’s gonna be overrun” or “Britain’s gonna make a deal.” And so, the first thing that Hopkins had to ascertain was is Churchill going to keep this country together? Is it going to keep it fighting? And if we send them materiel, will they be able to use it in the long run? And Hopkins determined that, in fact, Churchill was going to stay in the fight. Britain was going to stay in the fight. And yes, if we sent materiel and became essentially the arsenal of democracy, that Britain would survive. And this became kind of the keystone of this tremendous alliance between the British and the Americans in the Second World War.

    So, in a way, he was discerning, like we’ve lately been discerning if Ukraine was going to survive and stay in the fight, and whether it was worth our sending materials and support or whether it would just be taken up by the Russians after a short fight. But, in fact, Churchill and Hawkins formed a very tight bond, and one of the things that Churchill appreciated so much about Hopkins was that he stayed focused on the key issues. He knew what was salient, he knew what was most important, he didn’t waste time. He went right to the key issues, and he figured out how to move forward on those key issues.

    When I was evaluating my students, one of the things that I was often looking for was a sense of their ability to discern what is most important. Can they separate the wheat from the chaff? Can they really zero in on what’s key and what’s crucial and move forward and bring others on board and keep them focused on what is most important? And Hopkins did that in spades, and he did it over and over and over again. He traveled with FDR, he went to all the major international conferences and helped the president keep everyone on track. Even when there were huge differences, Harry Hopkins found a way to get people to agree and to simply create good outcomes through determination and through, I think, a certain optimism that he shared with the president.

    The president had a confidence that was, oh, just winning and contagious, and this is why I think he was such a successful president in the Depression, when people were feeling so ill at ease and so anxious and so demoralized. He lifted them up, and Harry Hopkins was able to do that too. He brought this optimism—focused optimism to all the tasks that he undertook.

    You also speak specifically about some of FDR’s qualities.



    Can you expand on them here?

    Well, I talked a little bit about that infectious optimism that he had. And that made him a winning personality, a successful politician. and I think if you just have charisma, if you come into a room and you sort of own it, you have a huge advantage politically. And FDR had that. He had this kind of sparkling quality to his personality. But you have to have more than that. You have to have an imagination to think up initiatives, an instinct for what’s going to work, and then a degree of shrewdness in the political world to be able to see it through—to make sure that you’ve got the right people in place to push it forward, the right words to articulate it so that you can sell it to the people who need to understand it and then implement it. And I think FDR had this combination of real optimism and charisma and leadership ability—but, also, political instincts and shrewdness and a sense of what needed to be done to take an idea to reality.

    So, for instance, I talked a little bit about, recently, Hopkins and providing weaponry. FDR conceived of what became the Lend-Lease Plan (Lend-Lease Act) of 1941, which gave aid to our allies—particularly Britain early on, but then, after the Soviets were attacked by Germany, also to the Soviet Union. And Lend-Lease became an incredibly important instrument of victory in the Second World War. But it was largely the president’s idea. He conceived it, basically, on a fishing trip after the 1940 election. So he had the imagination to come up with it, but then he had to have the shrewdness and the political skill to figure out how to get it passed through Congress, which was no easy trick, and then how to persuade the British that we would in fact provide this aid and that we would be reliable partners and we were going to make a big investment and make sacrifices ourselves to help them.

    And this was Lend-Lease, and it was just crucially important to the war effort, prior to the American entry after Pearl Harbor. And you know, that’s just one example of the way that FDR was able to combine a huge creative imagination with the practical skill of being a politician; has to work with Congress, has to work with interest groups, has to persuade people, and has to set up bureaucratic administration to make things actually happen.

    You write about Dwight Eisenhower as well. What qualities of character did he bring to the hard choices of World War II?

    Many. Eisenhower intrigues me. You know, he’s got this sort of baby face, and he’s . . . he’s got this kind of charisma in a way that FDR had. He had an ease with people, and he had a sort of instinctive and apparent leadership quality that made him stand out. So when he walked into a room, you had a sense there was a real presence there and an important person. He was also attentive to scholarship, to learning, to knowledge. He had a real interest in history, an interest in people, in how they think and how they behave. He also, I think, had great integrity. He was a man who understood the important roles that he held for the country when he held them, and he wanted to do his best. He wanted to put his best foot forward at all times. He wanted to give as much of himself as he possibly could. And he also had a great sense of balance—even though, like all people who, I think, are great leaders, he had an ego. He had a strong sense of himself, but he also had balance. So, when he was working, for instance, with his allies, he understood that even though they weren’t going to agree with him all the time, that finding common ground was terribly important, and he could set his own ego aside to find ways to go forward. And, again, I think Hopkins could do this, FDR could do this, all of them could do it—to find destinations . . . sort of strategic ends that they were seeking and, in order to get there, could work with other people and could find ways of compromising, accommodating different cultures, accommodating different perspectives, and still keeping their eye on the ball and moving forward to the destination while not being so brittle as to insist that it had to be done “my way,” which I think is terribly important.

    I read a letter that Eisenhower wrote to (George) Patton early in World War II. It probably was 1942, but he was basically saying, “Look, you’ve got to get over your tendency to think that the Brits don’t know what they’re doing or that they’re not doing it your way or that they are inferior. They’re not. They are very capable. What you have to do is respect them. Recognize this, and move forward in a strong sense of alliance and relationship.” And it was actually a very forceful and, in some ways, a fierce letter because he was mad at Patton.

    Patton had basically upset Anglo-American relations, and Eisenhower was mad. But he wrote this in such a way that it was a magical wording where he was forceful and yet he never humiliated Patton. He brought him onboard, and he was very forceful, and he was very directive. But he did not humiliate him. And I think that’s sometimes a fine line to walk, but it’s terribly important when you’re dealing with subordinates and when you’re trying to get people to work with you.

    That’s a great point. Unfortunately, we have to end it here. Thanks for your time today; this was a real pleasure. Listeners, if you would like to explore even more about the qualities of character that strategists need, visit Look for volume 52, issue 2.

    If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, look for us on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or any other major podcasting platform.

    Author information:
    Tami Davis Biddle retired as the Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies at the US Army War College, where she is now a Distinguished Fellow. She has written extensively on military history, airpower, and strategy. The author of Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare (2002), she is currently writing Taking Command: The United States in the Second World War for Oxford University Press.



    Date Taken: 07.05.2022
    Date Posted: 06.20.2023 15:09
    Category: Newscasts
    Audio ID: 74938
    Filename: 2306/DOD_109717775.mp3
    Length: 00:15:10
    Artist US Army War College Press
    Album Decisive Point – Season 3
    Track # 24
    Year 2022
    Genre Podcast
    Location: US

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