One Mission (Book Summary – my leadership ‘must read’ this year)

One Mission is my ‘must read’ leadership book so far for 2017. It follows straight on from another great book (Team of Teams) by the guy who wrote the Foreword – Gen Stanley McChrystal. I read that book and was blown away by it.

So good, I bought ten copies!

Team of Teams documents how the Industrial Age introduced Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ‘Scientific Management’ model, which equated to Time and Motion/ Efficiency studies and Command and Control leadership. That used to serve us well when you were making Model T Fords, now – not so much (though its influence prevails far too much – for a crushing critique of how very unscientific that model actually is I recommend The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart).

When McChrystal was placed in charge of JSOC, battling Al Qaeda in Iraq – he found that despite having all the men, the money and machines – they were losing against a far smaller group of insurgents in an agile, connected network organisation. The reason? They were efficient, but not effective. He was playing chess, while they were playing draughts! He had a hierarchy, they had multiple leaders (we killed the ‘second in command’ about twenty times). The little starfish was beating the big spider.

The General schooled at West Point to be the archetypal hero leader now had to stop being a chess master – and become a ‘humble gardener’, to create places for others to flourish. (It goes without saying that this to me as incredibly Christian view of leadership). He devised a new model – “Team of teams” – where the relationships between constituent teams resembled those between individuals on a single team: silos were busted by trust, cooperation and common purpose.

It really is an important book in a time when change is all around and comes at us all so fast, requiring adaptability like never before. Our leadership team benefitted from my summary learnings from it about 6 months ago. But to be honest there wasn’t much of a ‘how to’ there, we needed the implementation to go with the inspiration. That’s where One Mission comes in.

Chris Fussell was McCrystal’s aide-de-camp, charged with a lot of the implementation. He’s therefore best placed to help other organisations implement the new thinking that came out of that arena into our own.

Rather than try to go through a chapter at a time, I’ll pull out what I thought were the most important themes in the order that seems to make most sense to me, but I urge you to read the book for yourself and ask yourself and your leaders the questions each chapter poses.


The old industrial leadership paradigms see people as cogs in a machine. The way to improve? Improve the processes. But we have all seen how often people who are told to be cogs end up saying, ‘computer says no’. And the larger the organization, the slower such flow chart heavy systems become and the less able to respond to rapidly changing environments. The JSOC was running a highly efficient, complicated losing twentieth-century bureaucracy against a fast and connected twenty-first century complex network of evil.


But that doesn’t mean networks are necessarily the answer for your organisation to flourish. They lack central cohesion and planning, so long term may implode, and lead to individual groups performing well, but not in a way that’s aligned toward any coherent goal.

What was needed was a way to form a hybrid, bringing the best of both models together. A Team of Teams.

Fussell was a Navy SEAL. They have their own history, heroes and methods of being the best of the best, charged daily to ‘earn your Trident.’ But all those other military teams, and  analysts, and intelligence agencies, all scattered around the globe, had their own team to be the best at doing what they did in – so if anything goes wrong it’s not our fault, it must be the other guys!

Fussel outlines well the frustrations that come from being on the ‘tactical’ front line, where decisions often have to be made quickly in real time, whereas those in ‘operational’ (for this read management) areas are dealing with the logistics and longer time scales, and above them those in ‘strategy’ at the top line of leadership are meant to be making much more long term plans.

Gaps develop all three ways, and often those on the tactical front line feel the strategists are far removed from their day to day challenges – and the only recourse they have for help, guidance or even to voice frustration is the managerial level above them who feel caught in the middle.

The answer they put in place was to agree and commit to an OPERATING RHYTHM of regular honest and candid communication. For them, this equated to thousands of people at all levels and multiple agencies all going online at 1600hrs for a 90 minute meeting, every single day (sounds like a lot of commitment? They did have a war to win!). The stories told show how everyone at any level with something to contribute was actively encouraged to do so – given the ‘psychological safety’ to do so without fear of being belittled.

It takes a secure leader to build this kind of environment and while you get the impression McChrystal would be a highly impressive individual, he’s what Jim Collins would call a Level 5 leader, more interested in the team’s success than his own kudos.

These regular ‘Operations and Intelligence’ meetings served to unite all individuals in the teams into that team of teams. Perhaps most important in these times would not be the brief look back and the long look forward, but the way everyone was included and brought away from their own silos under an ALIGNING NARRATIVE. This is the ‘ONE MISSION” that forms the book’s title. The Aligning Narrative is what pulled them all together and would be reiterated in various ways throughout, in written and spoken words.

Previously if you had asked any team what they were there to do, they’d probably say it was obvious – “Beat Al Qaeda!” But every team would then form its own version of that that actually mean for them, and for them to do. Now they established and agreed and repeated over and over not just WHAT they were there to do, but HOW to – as a Hybrid Organised Network – a Team of Teams.

“Our overarching goal now was not simply “defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq” but to become the type of culture that could… Our process was as important as our end goal, and defining the process was the equation

Credibility = Proven Competence + Integrity + Relationships.

Instead of talking only about winning, we would talk about changing how we operated in order to win.’ (pg 58)

The primary question I draw from One Mission then for your organisation (and for the group of churches I lead our leadership teams will discuss this tomorrow before everyone gets a copy of the book to read and implement) is this; What’s our Aligning Narrative? How do we agree, frame it, communicate it, repeat it and live it out?

The reason this is so important is that getting this right allows people in their teams to operate in a culture of Empowered Execution; knowing what you can do, and what you need to ask permission to do. Without knowing that, most people will default to playing safe, but clarity creates decision space and room for ‘positive deviants‘ to make those off the grid decisions that push the norms and make breakthroughs.

What’s Your One Mission? 

Are you clear on this? Many churches are going to say the Great Commission is our One Mission (if not, I wonder why they wouldn’t!).  At Ivy we would say we ‘win’ by helping people find their way back to God; so they Know Jesus, Grow in Community, and the Go together to reach the world.

But how do we need to change how we operate in order to win?

And as leaders, what do we need to identify, put language around and then discipline ourselves to communicate and demonstrate to help everyone on our Team of teams know how we do, what we are here to do?