Lt. Col. Mark Weber worked in Iraq for General Petraeus, and like many other army officers, considered the general a mentor. In a Saturday story at MinnPost.com, Weber referred to Petraeus as "one of the smartest and most energetic men I've ever met in my life, which creates a self-imposed demanding nature to the man--I just always wanted to be a better officer when I was around him."
That meant something to me, because Weber is one of the smartest and most energetic men I've met in my life.
Despite suffering from sepsis, enduring a surgery and attending a retirement ceremony presided over by Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, the cancer-stricken Weber cheerfully wrote a book in two months. Along the way, his editorial proficiency increased at a rate that gave me the uncomfortable sense that my customer was eating the skills I'd been hired for. (I shouldn't have been surprised. Working under Petraeus as an aide de camp for Iraqi Chief of Defense Babakir Zibari, Weber became frustrated using an interpreter and learned Kurdish in three months. Who does that?)
I came to admire Weber very much, and just as Petraeus made him want to be a better officer, Weber made me want to be a better editor and a more faithful correspondent. But as a citizen in a democracy, I must be able to admire Mark Weber the same way Mark Weber should be able to admire David Petraeus: wholeheartedly, but without thinking him infallible.
When we evaluate our leaders, we lazily compare them to leaders we perceive as evil -- the J. Edgar Hoovers and the Richard Nixons. But most leadership disasters small and large stem from honest mistakes made by honest people with noble intentions but flawed judgment.
People like us.
Take Colin Powell. After he presented bogus evidence for weapons of mass destruction at the United Nations, he suffered the humiliation of his life. But perhaps more of us should have understood and articulated what in hindsight appears to be the plain fact of the matter: Colin Powell believed what he was saying, but he was wrong.
Hubris is hardly confined to the top echelons. Weber's memoir is full of his own "failures," as he calls them, squarely. He flunked out of Army Ranger School because of a knee injury he had suffered previously. "I had been dishonest with myself," he writes. "This was a personal and professional embarrassment I could have prevented, but I had allowed pride to blind me." And when he took his first command, it was of an MP platoon whose morale was in the toilet. "If you're looking for a story about a new platoon leader who inherits a mess and turns it all around," Weber writes through still-gritted teeth," you should skip this section, because it isn't here."
Later in his career, Weber experienced a series of disorienting successes in the course of a few months: he was chosen from an eligible pool of 37,000 Army officers to win the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, given a prestigious assignment in Washington that included a sabbatical to get a master's degree and early-promoted to the rank of major. "With all that praise and recognition," Weber admits, "it was difficult keeping perspective."