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.