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General Mattis: lessons learned in leadership

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Council on Foreign Relations

Distinguished Voices Series with Jim Mattis

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

General Mattis discusses his lessons learned in leadership over the course of his military and government career.

(Applause.)

MATTIS: I’m sure that’s for you, Richard. (Laughs.)

HAASS: Well, good morning and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome back to the Council on Foreign Relations. I hope everyone had a good summer. I’m Richard Haass. Still president. (Laughter.) But before we turn to this morning’s meeting with—do you prefer Secretary Mattis or General Mattis?

MATTIS: Jim does just fine. (Laughter, applause.) I left my titles behind, Richard, in Washington, D.C., and happily so. (Laughter.)

HAASS: It’ll be difficult. (Laughter.) But before we turn to the meeting I did want to say a few things about Leslie Gelb. Les, as I expect all of you now know, passed away over the long weekend. He was eighty-two. Most recently he was president emeritus here, but over the past four or five decades he was a distinguished academic, a senior government official at both State and Defense, an opinion writer and a journalist with the New York Times, and, of course, president here at the Council on Foreign Relations for a decade, from 1993 to 2003.

His time here as president was distinguished for many reasons, but among them the founding of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Geoeconomics, the expansion of the National Program and its membership, the launch of the independent taskforce program, the invigoration of what is now the Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program, and much, much more. Les was generous with his time and wisdom with a great many young people in the field. I should know, because once I was one of them. We’ll find ways in the months ahead to commemorate and celebrate Les’ life and his many contributions here, but I didn’t want to let this moment pass without acknowledging them.

As I said, and as you can see, we’re here this morning to hear from Jim Mattis. (Laughter.)

MATTIS: Thank you.

HAASS: Most recently the secretary of defense of these United States of America. But before that, he commanded troops in the Persian Gulf, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, and he headed up Central Command. He is a distinguished voice in this series here at the Council devoted to distinguished voices. He’s also the author of a few book, published just today, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. He co-authored it with Francis J. West, also known as Bing West, a fellow Marine. Full disclosure, I worked closely with Bing in the Pentagon in 1979 and 1980, and I have been a friend of the gentleman sitting to my right here for some decades.

I also want to note, and this is not easy for me to say, that this book is already a bestseller on Amazon. (Laughter.) No doubt in anticipation of this event here today. Now, so I went on Amazon. And you can buy the hard cover there, at least as of this morning, you can buy it for $18.77. But for only slightly more, $31.97, you can get the hardcover along with two volumes of Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. (Laughter.) And let me just say, that’s a slightly more impressive pairing than most of us are familiar with. (Laughter.)

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