“Disagreement isn’t disloyalty.” -Gen Dempsey
No Time For Spectators: The Lessons That Mattered Most from West Point to the West Wing by General (R) Martin E. Dempsey is a refreshing read for all leaders. General (R) Dempsey’s book is an excellent example of servant-leadership. I was skeptical when I first got introduced to No Time for Spectators. Generals usually polish their careers by writing books about what they’ve done. It seems cliche.
However, I was pleasantly surprised.
Not only was General (R) Martin Dempsey modest about his accomplishments, he highlighted failures and turned them into lessons too.
In No Time for Spectators, General (R) Dempsey takes us into the halls of West Point as a cadet, what brought him there during the Vietnam War, and why he continued service afterward. He candidly expressed his concerns he had and how he solved them. And most importantly, he teaches valuable lessons to his readers.
I’ll give a summary of the book then give my opinion.
His layout is familiar throughout the book. He’ll present a problem, how he solved it, and what he did to apply that lesson later in his career. He begins with his pre-West Point days in New York near West Point when he wanted to go to the Naval academy. His family persuaded him to take a physical fitness test at West Point, and the rest was history.
General Dempsey talked about his time in command of a tank battalion. He had issues with tank maintenance and found a way to fix it through certifying his subordinates. He then related that to his work at the Pentagon, and how complex problems require creative solutions. The ownership rests with the commander to foster a creative environment.
Most interestingly, he talked about a vulnerable time in his life when he suffered through throat cancer. Following treatment and remission, General Dempsey received a call from President Obama for an interview to a high-level position. General Dempsey was honored to have received an interview for a senior job. It never occurred to him that he would be in that position. But, President Obama had other ideas, as General Dempsey explains further.
General Dempsey’s clear message to his readers is that we are active participants in our lives. If you’re a spectator, then you need to get in the game. He explains that life is about ownership and that your actions and words matter. We admit defeat when we allow ourselves to be spectators in our lives. It takes hard work, dedication, and confidence to actively lead your life. It seems like a banal concept, but it happens more often than we admit.
What I Liked
The tone of the book was approachable. The perception of generals is that they are unapproachable because of their high status. However, General Dempsy’s book was different. He’s articulate in his writing, coupled with a familiar and relatable tone in his book. His aptitude for writing allows him to be descriptive but not overbearing. For example, he wrote of an experience where he had a run-in with a general as a captain in charge of maintenance. While I was listening to his story (I got the audiobook), I didn’t need to refresh my memory of what occurred when I paused and returned to the book. I could feel the imposing presence of the general, as then-captain Dempsey explained this situation.
I liked how General Dempsey laid out his book. Each chapter is a lesson he learned. He draws on his time as a cadet at West-Point and as a commander of a tank battalion to demonstrate leadership ability. Afterward, he applied those lessons to his time in The Pentagon. Because the structure was simple, I always knew where I was in his story even if I had to stop listening. Also, it was easy to pick out lessons-learned and how to apply them to my leadership style. It helped that he broke down complex topics.
Each story had a purpose in the book. Some authors will insert stories to emphasize points, but General Dempsey is good at integrating the experience with the lesson. One experience he taught was about how leaders must learn to follow before leading. Not enough leaders talk about followership. I have read several leadership books thus far, and No Time For Spectators is the only one that has mentioned about being a good follower. I believe that being a good subordinate is critical to being a great leader.
He used his lessons-learned as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I enjoyed how humble he was throughout the book. He told of an experience when President Obama corrected him during a meeting, and General Dempsey took it gracefully.
If you get the audiobook, General Dempsey ends his book with a song. I have never heard a general sing before. He’s no Josh Groban by any means, but it was a nice touch for the end of the audiobook.
What I didn’t Like
The book is too short. However. it’s cliche to say that General Dempsey could write more, though. I should be grateful for what he wrote. But I still wanted more. Even though he was concise with his stories, I felt like there was an untapped wealth of knowledge lingering between the sentences he did not write. I hope he writes another book to fill those gaps with new experiences, especially as a junior officer.
Although he explained his concepts well, I wanted to experience his struggle with him. It felt like he glossed over some of the problems he had and hopped right to the solutions. It left me wanting for more on how the problem developed according to his point of view.
If you want to lead someday, read this book. If you’re a follower, read this book. No Time for Spectators is one book all leaders must-read.
It doesn’t get much better than this. Despite my critique, I still think that this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to lead. General Dempsey talks to new and seasoned leaders alike in this book.
Overall, I give it a 9/10.
If you want to purchase this book, click here. Have you read this book? If you have, what do you think was most impactful to you?