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Episode 58: Lessons In Leadership, Intelligence Analysis, and Geopolitical Trends From Retired LTG Robert Ashley, former Director of DIA


Mar 19, 2021

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
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

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

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

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.

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  • Source: http://listen.oodacast.com/episode-48-lessons-in-leadership-intelligence-analysis-and-geopolitical-trends-from-retired-ltg-robert-ashley-former-director-of-dia

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