Gen James N. Mattis, USMC (Ret.)
- Middle East
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- U.S. Foreign Policy
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A dedicated patriot, intellectual, and strategist, former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James N. Mattis exemplifies principled leadership in times of turbulence.
One of the preeminent leaders of his generation, Gen James Mattis has spent nearly 50 years in the service of his country. Renowned for his diligent study of war, and his dogged efforts on the battlefield, Gen Mattis is described as a principled commander who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.
A rare combination of thinker and doer, and scholar and strategist, Gen Mattis knows the monumental powers and responsibility of our military forces, and the challenges of our dangerous and complex world. His matchless dedication to his job and country earned him universal respect and reverence – from allies and adversaries alike.
Gen Mattis served as the 26th Secretary of Defense of the United States for nearly two years before resigning with distinction. With his reputation as a sharp analyst and venerable wartime leader, Gen Mattis received nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for his nomination. A living Marine Corps legend, he made history by securing special permission from Congress to lead the Pentagon, sooner than he was eligible.
As Secretary of Defense, Mattis preferred not to play politics – a quality that boosted admiration for the retired general. Instead, he focused on making combat readiness one of his main priorities, and served as the primary author of a new American defense strategy whose central goal was to take on “revisionist” powers that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”
Viewed as the steady hand in tumultuous times, he championed building a network of alliances and strategic partnerships around the world.
“Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” then Secretary Mattis wrote in a letter to President Trump. Without maintaining those alliances, he says, we cannot protect our interests or serve the role of an indispensable nation in the free world.
His resolve to amass and maintain positive relations with key countries served as a premier example of professionalism and stability in a political landscape wrought with unpredictability.
During his 44 years in the Marines, Gen Mattis rose from an 18-year-old reservist to the highest rank of four-star general. He capped off his military career as head of the U.S. Central Command, where he was in charge of all American forces serving in the Middle East and oversaw operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Syria, Iran, and Yemen. He retired from the post in 2013. It would be just four years later, in 2017, that he would answer the call to serve again, as the first member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet cleared to take office.
A veteran of three wars, Gen Mattis spent much of his career involved in overseas conflict. Described by colleagues and his staff as brave, honest, and humble, Gen Mattis proved to be an exceptional motivator of Marines and developed a leading style that endeared him to his troops.
“Believe so completely in subordinates they have no choice but to believe in themselves; act from integrity and authenticity, let your very goodness put ambition out of context,” he counsels.
As part of his “hearts and minds” approach to counterinsurgency operations, Gen Mattis established the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, which remains active today. The academy for Marine officers and senior enlisted personnel provides cultural awareness and language skills training to ensure units can operate effectively in complex expeditionary environments.
A patriot who always put country above self, Gen Mattis steeped himself in the history and tradition of the military and dedicated himself to the Marine Corps.
Gen Mattis speaks with candor and thoughtful analysis about the threats that face our nation and military. Humorous, compassionate, and strategic, he also offers insightful lessons in leadership, with a deep focus on the art of empowering individuals.
A lifelong Marine, Gen Mattis chose to lead from the front, rather than the rear. “Everyone fills sand bags in this outfit,” is a favorite maxim of the Marine general – meaning everyone is expected to pitch in to accomplish the mission. Gen Mattis urges leaders to demand and model excellence. “Leaders serve and work for the people on their team,” he believes.
A guardian of American foreign policy, Gen Mattis believes it is crucial to develop and nurture allies. “Nations with strong allies that respect one another thrive,” he says. “And those without allies stagnate and wither.” He also believes in partnering with allies who share our goals, but not necessarily the same culture. “Do not fall into the temptation to work only with those who think, speak, and look like you,” Gen Mattis counsels.
A voracious reader and student of history, Gen Mattis says leaders do their troops a disservice by not studying the men and women who have gone before them. The best way to hone your skills, he says, is to leverage lessons from history. “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation,” Gen Mattis states. “It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
Thwarting Threats and Nurturing Allies in Today’s Global Affairs
As a global super power, America has been a bedrock for military and diplomatic alliances since the end of World War II, but Gen James N. Mattis worries that our allies feel we are retreating from our long-standing commitments to them.
“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” says Gen Mattis.
During his time in the Trump Administration, Secretary Mattis worked to reassure global partners that the U.S. would indeed stand by them in tough times.
In this wide-ranging session, Gen Mattis draws lessons from history and politics to discuss how nations thrive with strong alliances, but can quickly disintegrate if left on their own.
Lessons in Servant Leadership and Leading by Example, with Gen James N. Mattis
A battle-tested commander inspiring others to lead by his example, Gen James N. Mattis provides audiences with real-life lessons in leadership, grounded in strong moral principles.
“When leading large organizations, use touchstones. Put a human face on the mission, convey your intent, and reach your subordinates’ hearts and minds,” he urges.
As a senior officer, Gen Mattis always made time to talk with the most junior staff, sharing his time and attention with everyone. “Leaders serve and work for the people on their team,” he says. "I have been accused of making my subordinates my equals, and I happily stand guilty."
Gen Mattis believes leadership isn’t about what you say, but rather what you do every day in support of your people. Known for his intellect, candor, and humility, he teaches audiences how true role models shape behavior by providing their people with examples of excellence to emulate.
With his straightforward approach and examples from the field, he shares the importance of leading with insight, courage, and compassion – above all else.
Gen James N. Mattis, USMC (Ret.)
Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military (opens in a new tab)
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