Lessons In Leadership, Intelligence Analysis, and Geopolitical Trends From Retired LTG Robert Ashley, former Director of DIA
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, USA (ret) was the 21st Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). He retired in November 2020 after over 36 years of active-duty service as an intelligence officer. He had previously served as the Army’s lead for all intelligence (the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2), where he was the senior advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff for all aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence and security. During his long career he commanded organizations charged with gaining insights into adversary intentions and making them actionable for decision-makers. This included work overseas including six combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a squadron, brigade commander, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (J-2). Other tours included assignments leading intelligence for the Army Joint Special Operations Command; United States Central Command; and for all US forces in Afghanistan. He also led Army intelligence training and education.
This OODAcast focuses on lessons for leaders of any organization, commercial, government or military. Some of the more enjoyable and interesting lessons come from being in the room with other great leaders. Imagine being in daily sessions with great’s like General Mattis. Consider the lesson you would take away when you see General Mattis leveraging mentors. Time after time we see great, well read decision-makers continually seeking inputs from others, even when they have reached the pinnacle of leadership echelons. Ashely’s personal approach certainly has involved mentors and he mentions many, but his methods included learning of decision-making methods from any source. He called this approach being a “student of the human condition.”
The military’s methods of continuing to grow and mature senior leaders is also discussed. These professional methods clearly pay off and could benefit any large commercial organization as well.
General Ashley is well versed in mental models and decision-making and he references many. The OODA Loop of course, but the intelligence cycle, military COA development and others are also referenced. He also provides, in hindsight, an opinion on the most important decision he made as Director of DIA, something that may well be far more important than knowing what mental models to apply to what situation.
One of the early critical thinking methods the military instilled in Ashley was a deep respect for history and a need to continue to examine lessons from the past that can be applied to today. His early exposure to this critical method of learning is directly related to the constant learning through reading that many in today’s officer corps embody.
Some of the books that has captured his attention lately include:
The Gray Eminence: Fox Conner and the Art of Mentorship. This story of Fox Conner captures the incredible influence this individual had through mentoring others to great leadership. Some who credited him with their success include George Marshall, Ike Eisenhower and George Patton.
First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned From the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country. By Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Ricks, this book underscores the importance of knowing which lessons from history are most relevant.
The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy From The Ancient World To The U.S. and China. Some great historical context on why Democracies are better.
Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.
In this business model, decisions are based on observations of dynamic situations tempered with business context to drive decisions and actions. These actions should change the situation meaning new observations and new decisions and actions will follow. This all underscores the need for a good corporate intelligence program. See: A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence
This post dives into actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America. See: Optimizing Corporate Intelligence
Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk. This post by OODA Co-Founder Bob Gourley provides personal insights into key biases as well as mitigation strategies you can put in place right now. See: An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making
We strongly encourage every company, large or small, to set aside dedicated time to focus on ways to improve your ability to understand the nature of the significantly changed risk environment we are all operating in today, and then assess how your organizational thinking should change. As an aid to assessing your corporate sensemaking abilities, this post summarizes OODA’s research and analysis into optimizing corporate intelligence for the modern age. See: OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age
This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information. See: Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence
Broadly speaking, a weapon is anything that provides an advantage over an adversary. In this context, data is, and always has been, a weapon. This post, part of our Intelligent Enterprise series, focuses on how to take more proactive action in use of data as a weapon. See: Data is a Weapon
Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity
The best business leaders are good at spotting falsehoods. Some joke and say the have a “bullshit detector”, but that humorous description does not do service to the way great leaders detect falsehoods. Bullshit is easy to detect. You see it and smell it and if you step in it it is your own fault. In the modern world falsehoods are far more nuanced. Now more than ever, business and government leaders need to ensure their mental models for detecting falsehood are operating in peak condition. For more see: Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity