Episode 117 – Jeff Eggers on Leaders and co-authoring a book with General Stanley McChrystal
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Jeff Eggers is a retired Navy Seal, and current Executive Director of the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute. He was formerly a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and has had a long career working in national defense at various jobs. He recently co-authored a book with General Stanley McChrystal called Leaders: Myth and Reality, and it’s currently a national bestseller
In this week’s podcast, we discuss:
• The writing process
• Dynamics of working with three authors
• Why the world needs another book on leadership
• Lessons learned from some atypical leadership examples
JJ Pinter: 00:01 This is the Eagle Nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. We have inspiring guests to have real conversations about things that you care about.
JJ Pinter: 00:13 All right everyone. Welcome back to the Eagle Nation podcast. My name is JJ Pinter and I’m going to be your host today for a fantastic literary-themed podcast, I guess today I’m with one of the coauthors of a fantastic new book called leaders and his name is Jeff Eggers and I’m super excited to have him on the podcast today. He’s a fantastic leader. So Jeff, thank you so much for joining us.
Jeff Eggers: Thanks JJ. Great to be with you.
JJ Pinter: Today is going to be special for me for a couple reasons. One, I love reading and I’m really excited to talk about this book. Two today is going to be one of these days where it’s going to be an episode where I get to work on my steel for strength. Would you like to know why? Because Jeff is a naval academy graduate and we’re getting closer and closer to the army navy game and I’m going to use every else’s self control. I have to not make fun of navy and slash or the naval academy as we go through this. I think I can do it. It’s a bunch of coffee in my system so I think I can do it.
Jeff Eggers: 01:14 You don’t need to worry about the the naval academy rivalry or the football game because I’ve actually pivoted hoping that there’s a balanced outcome of these these games and these rivalries between Army, Navy, Navy, air force and so forth. My father went to air force, so we have within our family, we typically try to trek to the army navy game and watched that as a family, but we also pay attention to navy air force just because of my dad’s Alma Mater. But I. I picked up this habit at a while back of of rooting for the other sides. When navy’s record gets too lopsided and it was a habit I picked up from John Mccain who once told me a couple of days before the army, Navy game after Navy had one, I think it was 10 or 11 in a row that he was rooting for army to a certain group of people who knew he was a naval academy person and his explanation was that it’s not good for our national security to have this record be too lopsided, particularly in the navy’s favor against the army because it wasn’t good for kind of army morale and so forth.
Jeff Eggers: 02:25 So he had this kind of crazy explanation for why he was rooting for army and I’ve actually adopted that ever since in part out of respect for, you know, the late Senator Mccain. But anyway, so we don’t have to worry about your self restraint because I won’t be too vociferous on the side of navy is as kind of, you know, unloyal is that scenes are disloyal. That may may see.
JJ Pinter: 02:46 Well it’s, it’s actually a really good point. I used to at one point in my life watch a lot of college football. I find that I have three kids with each additional kid, you know, that there’s been additional kind of hobbies that have fallen off and college football was one that came off really early or watching college football, but I grew up in Michigan and so, you know, the Michigan, Ohio state rivalry was obviously very, very big, but the rivalry ceases to hold as much public interest when it’s not a competitive rivalry. And that’s one of the things that I really hope for the army navy game. I love the history of the game and I want it to be something that America really looks at and is proud and interested in and when it’s 14 in a row or whatever it was, that’s not really the case. So
Jeff Eggers: 03:33 yeah, that’s a fair point. Army Navy holds interest always because even if the record’s really lopsided, the games can be, are pretty much a toss up because you know, there’s so much pressure on that game and the Games are always in, in weird conditions. Like last year was a blizzard I think. Yeah. That really, who knows what’s going to happen with the game. So I feel like the fans are getting a good football game regardless of how lopsided the record yet.
JJ Pinter: 04:00 Yeah. Well I think this is maybe a good, a good lead in, into, into your intro here, Jeff. So the reason that we’re talking on this podcast today is that jeff is, like I said earlier, is the coauthor of a book that I think just actually came out for purchase like a week or two ago. Right?
Jeff Eggers: 04:17 Right. We’ve been on the shelves for almost two weeks. The book launched October 23rd and we just found out actually this weekend that in our first week now they tabulate sales week by week on a kind of a Wednesday to Wednesday rolling basis and we found out that for our first week on the shelves we already hit number four on the Wall Street Journal’s best seller lists. So we’re, we’re pleased with that. And, and you know, we in some ways we were kind of very anxious to see how the book would land with the critical reaction would be. And so far we’re pretty pleased with it.
JJ Pinter: 04:52 Yeah. So the book is called, we’ll go into this obviously in depth later on the podcast, but the book is called leaders and kind of, you know, I guess the author whose name is in the biggest font on the front of the book is his General Stanley Mcchrystal, which is probably a name that a lot of people would know. But then Jeff and then there’s another author named Jason. Is it pronounced mango and mango one? I want to make sure I get it correct. Correct. Jason Mangoes, mango and our two other coauthors on the book and I got a copy and I still am not exactly sure how this happened, but I’m really, really glad it did. About a month or so ago, I had a, uh, an author’s Proofer I guess a publisher’s proof that came my way by way of the podcast. And, you know, I’ll be honest, my initial kind of visceral reaction was, oh, another leader, like the world doesn’t need another book on leadership right now.
JJ Pinter: 05:41 There’s, there’s plenty of them out there. But I picked it up and I started. I started thumbing through it and I really liked what I read initially and I liked the format and I read the prologue and I was like, Huh, this things just book is not what I expected. And I started the beginning of the book, the First Section on the mythology of leadership and I was like, Huh, I really like this. And then I decided to dive into it a little bit. I thought I would love to, to get someone on the podcast and talk about this and I think through the publisher is how I, I made my way to, to Jeff. So I’m excited to dive into it today, but I don’t want to skip your intro because you’ve done. You’ve had an amazing career kind of up to this point. So I know you know, your current role is you’re the executive director of the mcchrystal group, right?
Jeff Eggers: 06:28 Correct. We have. So Stan Mcchrystal, not just my coauthor, he’s, he’s also my current boss and a former boss as well. I worked for him in the military. Um, and then we went our separate ways for awhile. He established this advisory firm, mcchrystal group, and then a few years ago asked me to join the team to stand up what is now our leadership institute and of course as part of that journey we wrote a book together as well.
JJ Pinter: 06:54 But to your point, and I know we probably have to be a little mindful of what we say here, but you know, you were retired, retired navy seal. You’ve worked in the White House, had a very kind of storied military career as well. Kind of up to and including what you’re doing right now. Correct. Would. That’s generous,
Jeff Eggers: 07:11 you know, I appreciate that. It has been a wonderful journey and unexpected journey in many ways. You know, I didn’t, I didn’t plan a career that would take me through a foreign policy and national security job at the White House, you know, in, in many ways. It was a lot of twists and turns that were not anticipated and not engineered, but worked out quite well. And it’s put me now in this position where I get to be a fulltime really student and researcher of this thing we call leadership, which is great because I’m pretty passionate about it.
JJ Pinter: 07:43 What’s to quote the grateful dead, I believe? What a long strange trip it’s been. Indeed. So to go back to what I was talking about earlier, so the. So the book came my way, I looked at it and the title of the book is leaders and so I will, I will admit it got the initial role from me because I was like oh another, another book on leadership. Like another like retired admiral or general officer writing a book on leadership. And then at the end of your book you guys even kind of go into this and just talk about the fact that there’s so much and everyone’s just kind of whatever the flavor does your is on leadership for that particular point in time. There’s tons of books just kind of spitting the same rhetoric around that. But then I got into it and it was different and I really enjoyed it and I want to describe kind of what I’d like to do is to describe my take on the structure of the book and I’d love to see how closely that lines up with, with your take on how it’s lined up. Yup. So, so here’s my take on the books. So it falls out in three very clean kind of sections as I read through it. So the first is this kind of section where you describe kind of the mythology of leadership right? Where you and you go
JJ Pinter: 08:56 into like basically like much of what is considered to be commonly held beliefs about leadership and why they’re wrong. And which I thought was really interesting. You know, I’ve heard there’s been some folks like Jim Collins who have explored that concept a little bit before. But then the second section which I thought was most interesting was. So here’s my take on it. It’s like it was almost a section of active learning where it’s like you use this really interesting historical framework that not a lot of people even know about anymore and you you engage in this kind of active learning in front of the audience at using these really atypical historical references like Straw man arguments and then the third section is like you kind of like use what you have learned or taught to yourself in in section number three to like lay out these, I guess three laws that you draw but like these ways that you think the company held beliefs are wrong and then you lay out this new model for thinking about leadership which isn’t like hierarchical, which is the way that everyone traditionally thinks about it, but it’s like much more complex and nuanced and contextual.
JJ Pinter: 09:58 So that’s my kind of assessment at a very high level of like the framework of the book. I’d love to see how that lines up with kind of your, your views or what your intent was as an author.
Jeff Eggers: 10:10 Yeah, and it’s wonderful that, that you came away with that reflection because that’s. That’s pretty much where we ended up in what we wanted the reader to think. You know, you, you talked about the eye roll when you opened it up and you’re like, oh great. Another leadership book, which was precisely the experience we had had going into this. You know, and I had been. I’d been talking to different people about books on leadership and writing a book on leadership for 10 years prior to doing this one. And so I had gotten that. I wrote quite a bit and, and it’s well deserved. I think it’s still the case that there’s over 100,000 books on Amazon, but like leadership in the title or something like that. It’s a pretty crowded genre and frankly not a lot of those books are super high quality and super memorable.
Jeff Eggers: 10:58 So it was a challenge to try and put another book into that crowded sea of literature that would stand out and stand up. And so what we did is we, we knew we had to say something important, which we can get back to you, but more importantly we knew it had to be interesting and unique in its approach. And so we got this idea early on from a friend to base the book off of plutarch’s lives. And if your listeners are wondering who the hell was plutarch’s, they’re totally forgiven because we basically had the same reaction. None of us were Greek classicism. Plutonic was this Greek biographer, first century, had Greek biographer who wrote this series of pairings of famous Greeks and famous Romans alongside each other and then did a comparison of the two. And then you know, much of that survived through history to be compiled as this, this volume that was called plutarch’s lives.
Jeff Eggers: 12:00 And it used to be a big deal. It used to be a really well read, you know, best selling book that a lot of people, you know, kind of turn to as a, as a reference book on leadership. So anyway, we, we decided to base our book on plutarch’s Ian Model, meaning that we were going to pair historical leaders, not Greeks and Romans obviously, but to go with that pairing methodology and find these really intriguing people write about some of the more intriguing and unexpected aspects of their lives as leaders and then compare them and step back and say, okay, you know, so what does this tell us about leadership and, and we do that in the three sections you outline. So we, I think we stumbled into, to be perfectly honest with you, something of a unique methodology that’s, that’s worked pretty well and we were,
JJ Pinter: 12:54 that’s really interesting. So I’m, I’m interested if you would characterize kind of the structure of the book or maybe hit any high points that I didn’t hit. I might’ve been completely off on this on especially kind of sections one and three. I mean I’m the one that made those three sections stuff. You might not even think of it that way. I’m interested in, in knowing we did, we absolutely did. Is is the, I mean, did I miss any big points in describing like at a high level, the layout of the book and kind of the, the journey by what you walk the reader through?
Jeff Eggers: 13:22 Yeah, so the, the way, the way we would walk through it is very similar. Three sections. The first sets the reader up to say, Huh, everything that I’ve been taught about leadership might not be right. In other words, there’s this gap between the way we talk about leadership or what we’ve been taught about it in the way we actually experience it or the way it works in reality. And so we, we came to this bottom line upfront premise that that much of what we think or believe about leadership is more a mythology than a science. And that’s the first section is to kind of set that up and that’s something we started the book project with based off of our practical experience as leaders. All three coauthors, you know, had military careers of varying lengths, had served as leaders in various ways at various levels, but all of us had this feeling like, you know, the way you talk about this in the way we teach it isn’t quite the way it actually works.
Jeff Eggers: 14:26 So there’s something a little off here. And so that’s the first section and then the second section, which is unfair because it’s actually the bulk of the book in terms of pages, are these profiles of these historical leaders mostly in pairs. There’s six pairs and then one standalone profile of Robert e Dot Lee for a total of 13 profiles and that section two and you know that’s far and away the heaviest chunk of the book and that part evolved as we went. In other words, when we started, we didn’t know what was going to be 13. We didn’t know who the 13 would be or what the six genres would be beyond the. The standalone profile of Robert e Dot Lee. I think we knew Robert e Dot Lee would be in the book only because we talked about him so much because he, he was such intense personal interest to stan because Stan kind of grew up, you know, figuratively speaking in the shadow of Lee, but literally kind of in the shadow of these statues at westpoint and like Lee barracks.
Jeff Eggers: 15:30 I’m at West Point, um, Washington Lee high school and so forth. So he from the beginning had a fascination with the legacy of Lee and then you’ll recall after the Charlottesville riots and so forth recently, Lee’s legacy kind of got revisited in a much more controversial way. And that’s about when we started writing the book and thinking about this. So there was a clarity around Lee, but the other 12 kind of evolved and emerged as we went. And then the bottom line conclusions in section three that you went through of what is leadership really if it’s not what we think it is. That part was also a bit of something that emerged as we went through the process of writing the book and not something we started with.
JJ Pinter: 16:17 So I was always, as I’m reading through the book and I was reading through some of these profiles, what my mind kept coming back to is, you know, initially was, wow, there’s so many potential interesting people in the, in the realm of the possible here we’ve got 13 people, some of which I was had a cursory knowledge of which some I knew by name, but I didn’t really know much about them. And then some, a few I’m embarrassed to admit I had never even heard of before. Right. So I would love to hear about. So I had this vision in my mind of like caffeinated kind of heated arguments with like thousands of sticky notes on the wall, you know, where people are like, you know, a lobbying for the folks that they think should make the book. What was the process like once you decided on the framework you’re going to do these pairings, what was the process like? Like the messy whatever it was to, to get it neck down. What’s. We can take property layout but just like the six pairs. How did you get there?
Jeff Eggers: 17:22 Yeah. So when you’re absolutely right, there were literally many Saturdays and Sundays where we would convene and put these pieces of paper with names up on the wall and in on one particular day I think we had over 100 and you know, moving them around, trying to categorize them, trying to prioritize them and discuss the relative merits and it was a, you know, a winnowing process where we would go from many to few and then we would write them, start to write them up and dive into them, you know, once we had it down to about, you know, two or three times the number that we wanted to end up with. And then we would start to debate the relative merits and everybody had different preferences among the three Co authors. And we also had three research assistants helping us as well. And the six of us would come together as often as we could, but at least for a couple of hours every weekend, usually six in the morning on a Sunday. Unfortunately, that was the only time we could get everybody’s schedules aligned and we would debate who should be in the book at both an individual level and in terms of these. These genres are broad categories of leaders. So for instance, at the individual level, Stan was really lobbying particularly toward the end when we started to have fewer and fewer open spots left for Davy Crockett. You know, just like Robert e Dot Lee. He had kind of this childhood fascination with diabetes.
JJ Pinter: 18:49 I have a childhood fascination right, and the king of the wild friends here. Right.
Jeff Eggers: 18:55 But Davy Crockett didn’t make the cut in large part because we went with one of those leaders that probably you didn’t know too well when you. When you flipped open to the table of contents, a Zhang [inaudible] who was a a 14th century Chinese admiral, who, who basically brand the, the Chinese emperors, Maritime Expeditionary Flotilla and in some pretty remarkable ways. And he came in in large part because one, we wanted the list to be diverse. We were. We wanted. Most of these people will be familiar to the reader so that they could be a little surprise and learning something new about people they thought they already knew about, but we also wanted it to be diverse and we wanted it to be diverse in a number of different lines, whether it was gender, culture and so forth. So that’s where Zhang ended up beating out Davy Crockett and we had some pretty interesting early morning debates about that one in particular.
JJ Pinter: 19:55 So I was wondering this, did the genres emerge first and then kind of fill in the gaps with the people or did you whittle down the people and they naturally kind of fell into some buckets which you then, you know, kind of categorized and named, which turned into the genres.
Jeff Eggers: 20:11 You know, it’s, it was a bit of both, to be honest with you. It wasn’t a linear, let’s come up with the six genres of leadership we want to cover. You know, in some ways the people gave rise to the genres and in some ways we found the genres leading us to certain people and it all had to fit in the end though, right? Because once we put a label on a genre like geniuses and decided to to dive into this question of what is interesting about why we hold up geniuses, if, if we’re going to learn something about leadership from this, we had to make sure that both of the people in that pairing really qualified as no kidding geniuses in there. We ended up with Albert Einstein pretty much is the, you know the face you, you get to when you open up the dictionary and you turn to the word genius.
Jeff Eggers: 21:06 So that was, that was pretty safe. But then we pair Einstein with Leonard Bernstein from a totally different artistic field who was something of a, of a musical or artistic genius, but as well as something of a thought leader because he shaped the way Americans think about both Broadway and orchestral music. And so there we were. We were taking a perspective on leadership that was more from one from thought leadership, how do you change and influence people without really having formal influence or authority over them, but also why do we hold up these people on these pedestals in these ways? What was it about Einstein or Bernstein that gave them kind of that influence and so we did that for all of the different genres, but the way it came together, it was much more of an iterative back and forth between who would the people be, what would the genre be, and then making sure that our six genres, plus Lee really gave us as as broad and wide of a lens as possible on this thing we call leadership.
JJ Pinter: 22:15 Yeah, and so people, I guess maybe listening to this and thinking what’s this book was written by a bunch of military folks who are talking about Robert e Dot Lee. I want to maybe just run through these six kind of genres and people just. I just want to name them really quickly so people can, can know that this is a really diverse, maybe not what you’re expecting book. So the first one is called the founders and they profile Walt Disney and Coco Chanel, which was, I knew a little bit about Walt Disney because I’d read the Walter Isaacson biography, but I had knew nothing about Coco Chanel, the geniuses with Einstein and Bernstein, as Jeff just said, the zealots. This one was really interesting to me because they, I don’t even know if I have this name correct, but you have to. You have to check me on this. But Maximilian Robespierre is that how you say it?
JJ Pinter: 23:00 You know, it’s pretty close. Robespierre websphere and then Abu Musab Zarqawi, who most people know, like heroes, Zang. Hey, as his own. He had. I want to make sure I have this one correct. Yeah. So I think most English pronunciations or as young is young Ha. And then you know, Harriet Tubman, the power brokers. Again, this was one that I had I knew of, but I didn’t really know too much boss tweed from, for those who might have taken a history class. Remember they all Tammany Hall thing. I had heard like in the back of my mind, I remembered the words of I didn’t really know anything about it and Margaret Thatcher and then there were farmers, both Martin Luther and Dr Martin Luther King Jr. So super, super wide ranging
JJ Pinter: 23:46 and diverse as you run through there.
Jeff Eggers: 23:48 Yeah, no thankS for going through that. I in that list was kind of an organic outcome of the process. You know, we, we filled it in as we went and we checked it against itself as we went and there’s a whole bunch of people that were left on the cutting room floor that are interesting and you know, we shed a tear over letting them go. But you, you know, you got to stop somewhere. Right. And we, we were, we were pretty pleased that we got something of a diverse list.
JJ Pinter: 24:17 Is the person that you, uh, would have liked to have gotten in the book the most. Maybe you found really interesting and just, you know, in the, in the, in the portion of negotiation let go. Is there a name that you found really interesting that you thought would have been good?
Jeff Eggers: 24:33 I did give you some names, but it would be better to give you the genres that we missed, um, because they’re super interesting and, and once I say them you’ll be like, yeah, I can see why that’s kind of missing or that’s kind of a shame. Okay. The first one, or let me just see jj, if you can guess what genre of leader is missing from this list? If you had to, if you had to guess, if you were writing the list, which genre of, of kind of leader category or type could we have put in there that would have found popular interest?
JJ Pinter: 25:08 Well, if you, if you pull out robert e dot lee, the one that stood out to me as any kind of a military leader comparison. Right, right. But lee checks that box, someone checks that box, I would say, you know, so initially the one that came out to me, so you kind of checked the box with founders, but those were both historical figures. The thing that I was reading through and thinking that was maYbe kind of a current comparison might be this whole idea of like entrepreneurs, right? Which is a little bit different than then founders. that was something that, because you know, there’s this kind of current crop of people, the, you know, the steve jobs is and zuckerberg and of the world. Maybe that was one. I like it. I like it when people put me on the spot like this. I’m sorry, I don’t mean. No, no, no, I like it. I don’t want to do coronary. Um, I mean, so you’ve got, you’ve got a couple of political leaders in there and power brokers, but necessarily like, you know, there’s not a formal section on like politicians or kind of uterus who are, you know, kind of by title leaders. I don’t know, what am I, what am I missing? Yeah. So I’ll give you
Jeff Eggers: 26:23 the three. The first one you’ll be like, oh yeah, but the second and third, you know, aren’t, aren’t obvious at all. So the fIrst one which we really struggled with was sports leaders. We’re leaders in sports and there we, we wrestled with people like billie Jean King and for a lot of different ways, in some ways there was, there was a lot of overlap with the geniuses because in popular culture we sometimes look up to someone like a leonard bernstein or an albert einstein in much the same way as we look up to a music star or a movie star or a professional athlete, right? Ronald reagan becoming president or albert einstein being offered the presidency of Israel. You know, there’s, there’s a relationship, but particularly between political leadership opportunity and just popular fame. That’s pretty interesting. and you know, professional athletes would have covered, helped us cover that. You know, a lot of, of athletes who go on to do important leader things get their influence in their platform by being accomplished in something that’s very different from leadership. Right?
JJ Pinter: 27:39 Yeah. I mean, I remember when I was a kid, maybe older than a kid, charles barkley, who was, uh, you know, obviously a very hall of fame basketball player. I remember there was a big, you might remember this, you know, he had gotten sideways with some of the news media about whether or not he was a role model and he and his argument, what, I’m not a role model, I’m just a basketball player, I’m just a basketball player on that, a role model. And the other side of the argument was no, you are a very public figure and kids look up to you and whether you like it or not, you are a role model and you are a leader. You know, I don’t know if you remember that whole kind of, you know, a series of conversations. But that has alwaYs kind of stuck out in my head where it’s like, you know, he certainly had lots of influence and he certainly was a role model. Now, you know, he chose to not think of himself that way for whatever reason, but it wasn’t because it was because he was a good basketball player and he’s a great guy. An example
Jeff Eggers: 28:35 in a fast. So that’s a fascinating example of that because he was kind of the quintessential bad boy and that was actually that. So that’s the second category that we really wanted to dive into that we kind of took a glance glancing look at, but not really a deep dive. We wanted to go into really effective leaders who are really offensive to our sensibilities of morality and so forth and they’re, you know, the obvious case studies, hitler, hitler obviously. Right. And that was a little too predictable and well-trodden for us. And so then we started looking at, and so this is the second category mafia bosses because we thought the leadership that was exercised within the mafia would be interesting because it’s not something we typically hold up in high regard, but at the same time there’s this kind of perverse fascination or almost admiration for it, certainly within media and tv culture and so forth.
Jeff Eggers: 29:38 And so people like al capone and so forth would have been interesting. But they got, they got left on the cutting room floor. And then the third category was, and you touched upon this a little bit, jj, but the a little bit more of the traditional political leaders, we ended up with margaret thatcher, you know, first british female prime minister and a and a pretty well regarded prime minister through through british history probably second only to winston churchill. And then boss tweed who in some ways was a compromise between the bad boys and the political leaders just because he was a hugely corrupt newark, you know, famously corrupt New York politician in some ways. He kind of built the refined, the, the tradition of the political machine in that, as you said, tammany hall phase of politics. But he, he was just, you know, he wasn’t, he wasn’t quite a mafia boss, but he was pretty corrupt. So the third category though that we came back to, and it never brought into the book. In the end, we’re simply the founding fathers and whether or not, you know, someone like a hamilton or a franklin a or even a Washington could have been interesting in that regard. And for various reasons they lost as well. But those are the three categories that we kept coming back to and never quite brought in.
JJ Pinter: 30:59 Well, I assume, I assume that you’re a student of history here. Have you read much? Walter isaacson?
Jeff Eggers: 31:05 Of course. We know we actually leveraged his work and some, some interviews with him in our research process ourselves on. And in some ways we didn’t want to go back and do anything he had done. Of course, that’s not the case with einstein. He’s written probably the one of the better known biographies of einstein, but we certainly couldn’t do two books, you know, couldn’t, couldn’t do two of his biographies. So leonardo davinci vinci or franklin and so forth. Steve jobs
JJ Pinter: 31:37 hit his franklin autobiography is probably one of the most interesting thing. I don’t know why, but I just found it to be one of the most. When you said founding fathers, it jogged my memory. I go to the most interesting books I think I’ve ever written from a biography perspective.
Jeff Eggers: 31:50 Yeah. And he was very helpful to us in talking through einstein and in trying to kind of get our, you know, kind of our summary of, of what led to einstein’s influence about. right.
JJ Pinter: 32:02 Is there a person that, who was. Who was in the book who was profiled in the book that your opinion really changed about once you dove in and learned more about that person’s life and influence, is there someone who stands out?
Jeff Eggers: 32:17 Yeah, I think, you know, there were several in, in almost all cases I learned something about the leader that I didn’t know going in. And you know, that’s not easy to do for me because I’m, despite what you said, I’m actually not the best student of history was never a great history student. But in several cases I thought I knew kind of who walt disney was and what he did and was surprised to learn kind of the backstory, so to speak. Even people like robert e dot lee. You know, I, I got more detail on the particulars of how certain episodes that we all, you know, thought we learned in school unfolded. For instance, his decision to fight for the army of northern Virginia and the south was a tortured decision for him certainly, and not something he took lightly, but probably most interestingly to me was the fact that he actually never even made the decision.
Jeff Eggers: 33:15 Really. He made the decision By deferring it to the state of Virginia. In other words, he hitched his decision to whichever way Virginia voted, whether to secede from the union or not, and you know, for. For someone who’s held up as a great leader in history for so long to have really not decided the biggest decision of his life is pretty striking because many people, if nothing else, associate leadership with making big decisions. Right? So that was an example of disney was more interesting just because you could get into the kind of the color and the dimensions of his pathology and so forth and the way in which you saw his leadership style struggle. As the walt disney company became founded and then grew and grew and grew and both kind of where that leadership style resulted in him hitting these, these huge road bumps that he persevered through.
Jeff Eggers: 34:17 But not easily, like, you know, the labor riots that we go into for the labor strikes that, you know, he, he worked through, but as well, you know, just like the ways in which he was, you know, almost pathological is a good descriptor, you know, committed to an artistic vision in ways that most of us can’t relate to. right? Like he wants. TheRe’s this part of the book where we talk about the production of snow white and you know, to get snow white going with his animator, his senior animators, he pulled them in one night, kind of toward the end of the day, said, hey, go get something to eat and then come back. I wAnt to run you through something. So they come back, he sits them down and this like this little amphitheater or something. And he proceeds to act out his vision for what became snow white, jumping back and forth between the characters and the voices doing it all himself.
Jeff Eggers: 35:16 And by the end of it they were all like, okay, we’re in. This is amazing. we love this vision. We’re doing it. But then at some point, remember the, the, the dwarves snow white and the seven dwarves in the, you know, the very, yeah, who doesn’t remember the door. So there’s this part where one of the animators, they’ve been working on the personalities and the names of the doors and there was one point where they came up with dopey and dopey was walking along and one of the animators drew in him being out of step and then doing that kind of like half a step to get back in step. And disney focused in on that. When he saw it for the first time, he said, that’s genius. Go back and redo all of the scenes with the dorms with dopey. Doing that same half stitched step and that going back and redoing everything just to get that little detail. Took six months with a small animation team to go back and redo everything in. You know, the cost and so forth of making such a small change was, was huge. But like he was so strong in his convictions about his artistic vision that, you know, he did stuff like that. And so those kinds of details and that kind of color was really interesting to learn and explore as we went
JJ Pinter: 36:36 for this. I watched a pbs documentary on him not too long ago was it was. If you’re not seeing it was really, really interesting. It reminds. Yeah, I should. I haven’t actually seen it. I thought it was good that end. The Mr. Rogers documentary. Why don’t you be my neighbor both. I found.
Jeff Eggers: 36:52 Oh, I have seen that one. Yeah. Yeah. Did you like it? Yeah. Particularly for our generation, like the, going back to the idea, I love the Mr. Rogers when I love the, the scene where they show them setting up the set and you know that caboose that runs on the tracks, like you remember the scene where the guy takes the box out, right. And he opens up the top of the box and there’s lIke this piece or something. He lifts up the phone and there it is like the red caboose and he like lifts it up, but he puts it on the tracks and you’re like, oh, that’s how it worked. yeah. That’s cool.
JJ Pinter: 37:25 That’s really interesting. So I, uh, jeff, I want to be, I want to be mindful of our time here because I could keep firing questions at you about these people all day long, but I think that the message I would say is go get the book and read the book. It’s really interesting and you will. Just, the way that it’s structured in these comparisons I think are super interesting. Yeah. Thanks. So here’s the question. As I was reading through this, the thing that like came to my mind, especially at the end when you were describing kind of this new kind of theory for, for leadership, I forget exactly which I’m redefining leadership, was that you, you guys are three military leaders, you know, one of you being like about as senior as you can get in, in the military, you’re basically dismantling the military leadership model. Was my take on it, this super hierarchical kind of, you know, I’m at the top, listen to what I do as I say, not as I do type model. Have you a, do you agree with that statement? But b, have you gotten any commentary from any of your peers or coworkers that, you know, our unappreciative of that?
Jeff Eggers: 38:37 Not so much to be honest with you. Mostly we get a lot of head nods, you know, people, people don’t disagree with the way we’ve framed this and people do. It does strike them as a fundamental paradigm shift, you know, to use kind of a, a warrant cliche. But. and that’s mostly been the reaction. I think the more important question is the, so what, like what does it mean for real leaders and real leadership requirements? Like it’s one thing to talk conceptually about our new definition of leadership, which, which we do. And you know, just to give you the short version. It is that, you know, you said it’s a hierarchical thing. We, we basically say even where it’s not so hierarchical, most people conceive of it as a process and it’s a process that’s mostly enacted by the leader toward a certain outcome. Like when, when, when you really get down to it, if you, if you were to circumscribe all of, you know, people’s various notions of what leadership is.
Jeff Eggers: 39:42 A lot of it comes down to something like that, a process and acted by a leader towards an outcome. And what we find is that it’s better to describe and More accurate describe leadership is something that emerges from the system that includes not just leaders, but also importantly the followers, uh, but as well the context, right? In other words, you can’t separate leadership from the particulars of a situation. It is always intensely contextual. And that is what led to the first of the three myths. That’s in section three, the formulaic myth, which is that it’s a, it’s a myth that we keep trying to find kind of this magic formula or recipe or prescription of leadership and we’re going to keep doing it. People will keep writing books, you know, the five secrets of whatever, right? Like keep looking for that formula, but it’s a mistake to look for it because what works in one situation may not work in another situation because leadership is so contextually driven and relevant.
JJ Pinter: 40:44 And I think, you know, you don’t really go into this in your book, but just from my personal experiences, authenticity is so important in later years. Right. And, and I see people read these leadership books and they say we’re going to be doing this and I’ve got to be doing that and I got to be this type of leader. And, and the, they try to change. I don’t know, a lot of times what I see is people trying to do things that end up just feeling inauthentic to me. And it’s like, no, you’re, I, I have the, you know, very particular person that I remember from kind of my, my time in the army where he was, he was a very intelligent kind of soft spoken person. But he felt like that wasn’t. And so he would, you know, put on a, on like the black stetson and do like the fake kind of patton or macarthur rah rah speeches. And it was, it just fell flat because it’s like that’s who he was. It was just terribly and authentic. And I don’t know, it’s complete kind of tangent there, but that seems to me to be somehow as I was reading through this, I was like, well yeah, but that’s like somehow that seems like it fits into this somewhere.
Jeff Eggers: 41:48 Yeah, and we do. We do go into some of that. like we know we say that if you wanted to read the story of how martin luther ignited the protestant reformation as a way of informing your own efforts to catalyze a movement, you’d be wise to pay attention to the stories and the lessons, but you’re never going to be like martin luther, you’re never going to be like martin luther king and it’s at one point we even say it’s not even clear that churchill was able to live up to churchill’s legacy. RIght. In other words, the ways in which we paint the portrayals of how these leaders lead is itself usually off the mark, nevermind our ability to emulate or replicate what they did. So being kind of a true to your self or are being authentic as you said, is important. I would say to a point, I think there’s a point at which people really do expect leaders to be themselves, but to be all of themselves.
Jeff Eggers: 42:49 Right? And that goes to this idea that we have very high somewhat say exaggerated expectations of leaders and we have those expectations for good reason. It results in all sorts of myths and fallacies about leaders and leadership, but in some ways that’s what makes leadership so important. Like if, if we don’t have high hopes for ourselves and high expectations of our leaders, what else is going to pull us forward? Right? And so setting the bar high and then trying to hold our leaders accountable for living up to that bar I actually think is an important part of the engine of leadership. Even if we also have to be mindful of the fact that nobody’s that good, all of us are pretty fallible as leaders, you know, some of us more than others myself in that category and that we need to be very human and kind of open and vulnerable about the ways in which we actually aren’t that good. Right? And In some ways we are human like everyone else at the end of the day.
JJ Pinter: 43:52 So jeff, to two more quick things I wanted to ask you, well, what did ask about the process of being a coauthor? And I got to, I’ve never done this before so I’m just kind of putting some of my preconceived notions out there, but I’m guessing it is this exercise in compromise where, you know, hopefully the sum of the parts is greater than kind of what the individual efforts would have been. But again, like there is, there is a lot of compromise there. I’m interested in that experience versus just writing a book on your own and getting it to be exactly what you would want it to be down to every last little detail. What you found that to be like and kind of like, yeah. Which, you know, if you would not want to do it again if you would want to try to do something different.
Jeff Eggers: 44:43 Yeah. I, you know, I get that question a lot because because books with three coauthors are pretty unusual and they’re probably unusual for a reason. You know, it’s, it’s really hard to write a coherent single voice book, which really is, is what the reader should expect, right? You don’t. You don’t want to read something where it’s clear. There were three different voices, authors and pens throughout it because that’s just jarring and that’s no fun to read. So at a technical level you, you’ve got to get three people who at least have a similar style of writing so that because you literally are going to have multiple people doing, you know, different sections of the book and holding the pen at different times, but at a higher level you need people who, who agree on what the book’s going to be about, but probably disagree about how you should get there, which was pretty much the case for us.
Jeff Eggers: 45:39 Like we all had various takes on this idea that our, our notion of leadership is, is off the mark and that there’s this disconnect or this mythology, but the best way to kind of get the rear to understand that and then do something useful with that realization. We all had different views on just just because we’re different people and that’s what introduced a lot of the friction and intention in some ways, you know, considerably. So like it’s, it’s a great thing that we’re still friends after finishing this book because there were a lot of things we disagreed about along the way and had to work through, but in some ways I think that made for a better book because it made for a unique book because it’s a book that can appeal to someone who’s more of kind of an academic student of leadership theory but can also appeal to someone who is an avid reader of historical biography and wants to kind of, you know, cruise through these 13 stories. And so that diversity of approach actually I think made the book better. But it took a lot of discussion and debate to get to the point where we could, you know, be productive about writing a book as we went.
JJ Pinter: 46:54 It’s interesting and there’s probably also the dynamic, and you know, maybe I’m wrong about this, but I gotta imagine. I’m just trying to think of scenarios in the past when I’ve had various bosses and what the process would have. I guess what I’m saying is that I probably would have felt some pressure to acquiesce in certain instances if I was writing something with a boss of mine or someone who, you know, that’s not really a well formulated question. I’m just kind of going back to what I, I think I could have felt and I just am guess I’m offering it up as something that seems an interesting dynamic. Yeah,
Jeff Eggers: 47:31 but it’s like a marriage or any, any kind of a committed relationship where there’s going to be given. Take the book isn’t 100 percent yours and that’s the bIg difference. You know, when you’re the author, every word is yours. When you’re one of three coauthors, you know you are going to yield to a coauthor who wants to say something in a certain way or wants to say something that you may disagree with and every. Everybody felt that along the way. There were a lot of sentences or even words that we agonized over and debate it. Particularly in the more kind of active profiles like robert e dot lee for instance, and you know, in, in a way that we, we knew was going to be scrutinized more than maybe the other profiles in terms of how we cast and, and, and explored his legacy. And so that’s the differences. You’re going to compromise. I mean you said acquiesce, but I think it’s, it’s really a compromise. You’re gonna win some, you’re going to lose some and that was just part of the process.
JJ Pinter: 48:35 Well jeff, I guess what I would say right now is we’ll put a link to the, in the show notes to the book and I would encourage people to go to go get it and read it. It’s a, it’s a thick dense book that’s filled with a whole lot of goodness, but it’s gonna take it’s gonna take a little while to get through, but it isn’t 100 percent worth it and I want to end with one last question and to change the subject a little bit if that’s okay. Yeah, of course. Everyone that comes on the podcast. I asked this question too and I think it’s really interesting because I get a chance to talk to, you know, every everything from super high military officials all the way down to local business owners and I always get really interesting kind of answers and, and it’s a question about leadership and here’s the question.
JJ Pinter: 49:22 The question is what’s the most important lesson that a leader has ever taught you in your career or in your life? And when I asked this question, some people, you know, immediately there was some crucible moment that happened where, you know, they had, they think back to some very specific instance and they can say, oh, my little league baseball coach taught me this, or my first company commander taught me this or whatever it was. But some people, it’s very, it’s much more thematic for its cycle. I’ve had lots of really great bosses over the cost of my career. I’ve had some bad ones too. And here’s some of the themes that I’ve pieced together and this is, you know, it’s influenced me in this way. So that’s the question. What’s the most important lesson that a leader has ever taught you and you know, feel free to share that person if someone stands out.
Jeff Eggers: 50:03 Yeah, sure. And, and there’s, there’s lots that would, that would fall in that category. I mean, most of what I’ve learned along the way that was good, I learned from other people and most of what I learned through failure was, you know, me personally failing at it and then, and then at least recognizing that I had failed. Um, so in terms of what I learned from others, probably the most kind of immediate one that comes to mind is simply this idea that you have to make yourself a little sick to your stomach as a leader. In other words, you have to take risks on people that really make you feel uncomfortable. Um, you know, some people say, I want a stretch experience for myself. Well, leadership is, as is often about creating a stretch experience for everybody, for the organization and making sure everybody’s kind of in that mode of being stretched.
Jeff Eggers: 50:59 and that’s really tough because today everybody’s held to these performance standards and we hold up, particularly those of us from the military, this notion of accountability for performance, right? So we tend to go in the other direction, we tend to go towards things that are safe, that are more assured and, and we don’t learn much doing that, right? And we certainly don’t achieve as much doing that. I mean everyOne’s very familiar with the idea now that that competitiveness often comes from learning and trial and error and experimentation and so forth. But I think all of that starts with a leader who’s willing to take a chance on people and to accept risk. And you know, there’s all sorts of cases of leaders taking institutional risk, right? Like taking on debt or you know, making an acquisition and so on and so forth. BuT I think what’s harder is taking that kind of individualized personal chance on somebody where you give somebody the limelight or the, you know, the, the stage or the decision or the chance to represent at the meeting or whatever it is to, to, to pull yourself back and push them forward in a way that’s going to make you uncomfortable and frankly make them uncomfortable to like, if you’re not both a little sick to your stomach, then I don’t think you’ve got it about right.
Jeff Eggers: 52:24 And that I think that’s a great lesson because it’s not instinctive for us. But it is so incredibly powerful. And so that’s probably the one that I would offer up.
JJ Pinter: 52:35 It’s funny, people often ask me, you know, because I was in the army, obviously, then got out and worked in the private sector for some, for some bigger companies and then came to the team are to be, which is this little tiny nonprofit startup and people have been here six years now and people. I wasn’t asked me what it’s what it’s like. And they assume it’s just like, you know, the analogy we always use as people think all we do is like, you know, high five veterans and, and work out all day, which couldn’t be farther from the truth but my, but my answer is, you mean you don’t know, you know, my answer is that this is a, this is equal parts, exciting and terrifying at any given point and you know, the needle can move kind of one way or the other more towards terrifying and it’s exciting, but it’s somewhere in the middle of Just always nerve racking at any given point for different reasons.
JJ Pinter: 53:24 And it’s, yeah, just really interesting. So I’ve never heard anyone phrase it that way before, but I completely get it. And that’s really interesting, right? Because it’s um, again, that’s kind of not exactly lined up with the military model of the Commander’s responsible for everything that the unit does or fails to do. So therefore you have to do everything yourself and you have to fall in the army. It’s like you have to follow fm, you know, whatever it is, whatever these 17 steps in sequential order that you know, all that kind of stuff, and the consequence of all of that, of, of hiding behind all that bureaucracy and safety is that you know, you and the people who work for you, you never get a chance to stick their necks out a little bit and see what they can do right now. That’s exactly right. Well, jeff, we’ve been going at it for an hour here. It feels like it’s only been a few minutes. I really, really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for joining us. Keep up the great work. Keep pumping these books out and I hope we get a chance to have another conversation on another book and a couple years in, in the future and I hope we get a chance to connect on some other stuff maybe in the, in the years, in between you and thanks for what you’re doing and for having me on today.