General James Mattis Leadership Essay

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General James Mattis is one of the prominent military leaders and highly successful in his 40 years of service. This paper examines how General Mattis’ utilized strategies, styles, behaviors, and qualities that are comparable to those of past Maverick leaders. The analysis also demonstrates how General James Mattis adapted these strategies, styles, behaviors, and qualities to work in the contemporary operating environment. As part of this analysis, a discussion of the moral and ethical compass of General James Mattis is also included. As shown in the paper, the strategies utilized by Mattis include intellectual risk-taking and people-centered approach in commanding troops whereas the styles include combative approach and strategic thinking. On the other hand, General Mattis’ behaviors include extreme aggressiveness and interaction with subordinates while his qualities include intellectualism, positive attitude, and courage.

Comparing General James Mattis to Maverick Leaders of the Past

General James Mattis is recognized as one of the accomplished generals and military leaders because of his achievements. The height of General James Mattis accomplishments in the military was when he was named the 11th Commander of the U.S. Central Command. This was a significant achievement since individuals selected to serve in this role must exhibit exemplary leadership abilities and years of experience in service. While he has since retired and become the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis’ success in the military is attributable to the various strategies, qualities, styles, and behaviors he employed. General Mattis employed the strategies, behaviors, styles and qualities of past Maverick Leaders to become a risk taker and extremely aggressive commander. The purpose of this paper is to compare how Mattis’ employed and utilized qualities, strategies, qualities, and behaviors to Maverick leaders of the past.


General James Mattis’ became a risk taker and extremely aggressive commander following the strategies he employed on an off the battlefield. The strategies he utilized, which are comparable to those utilized by Mavericks of the past include…

Intellectual risk-taking

One of the key strategies utilized by General Mattis is intellectual risk-taking, which was crucial for navigate the operational environment. General James Mattis would consistently challenge his troops to take risks through careful and intellectual analysis of the operational environment. His use of intellectual risk-taking is evident in how he led his troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (Szoldra, 2016). For instance, in the war in Iraq, Mattis insisted on the importance of the U.S troops in these expanses using less force unless necessary even though the United States invaded Iraq to deal with insurgents and terrorists. This was based on the understanding that not all individuals in this country were terrorists and it was imperative for troops to comprehend that. As a result, he managed to suppress a key al-Qaida strategy of sowing seeds of disaffection amongst the population against the invading forces.

Secondly, Mattis also pointed out the significance of the troops being susceptible temporarily in order to develop connections with the local people so as to be able to promote security for the long haul both in Afghanistan and Iraq (Szoldra, 2016). In this regard, General James Mattis adapted the David Petraeus strategy of seeking the support and backing of civilians to promote long-term security. David Petraeus is a renowned general and former director of the CIA who employed an adaptive and affirmative leadership style that was civilian-focused.

The use of a civilian-focused approach also demonstrated General Mattis’ ethical and moral compass in the battlefield. For example, Mattis’ ethical and moral compass can be gleaned from the infamous letter that he penned for American troops under his command as they were entering Iraq. In the inspirational piece, Mattis denounces Saddam’s oppressive tendencies against his own people. He tells his men not to hurt the innocent and strongly advises that apart from those who resist, all others ought to be treated with decency. Mattis also comes across as compassionate – he once assumed a Major’s duty during the Christmas festive season so as to enable the major to go have time with his family.

People-centered Approach in Commanding Troops

The second strategy utilized by General Mattis is taking a people-centered approach whilst commanding a troop that involved motivating his troops and regular visits and support of troops when they make mistakes. As part of his people-centered approach, Mattis would constantly motivate his subordinates and battalion while in the battlefield and would constantly coach them to work harder. In this regard, General Mattis adapted the participative leadership style of George S. Patton, a World War II general, to fit contemporary wartime scenarios, where the morale of serving soldiers is of significant relevance.

Secondly, General Mattis would conduct regular visitation of troops and backing them up and supporting them when they make mistakes. General Mattis constantly stressed the mistakes made by his subordinates as learning opportunities. This not only led to him gaining their trust, but at the same time enabled them to learn from their mistakes rather than incessantly punishing them. Mattis told his subordinates that what they needed was to concentrate on their job and not let mistakes wear them down (Szoldra, 2014). Through this process, General Mattis adapted the aggressive and swift decision making mode of Robert E. Lee (Bonekemper, 1999). For instance, in 2004, during the Iraqi war, Mattis is said to have taken only 30 seconds to decide on whether or not to shell a suspected enemy structure.


Apart from employing some key strategies on and off the battlefield, General James Mattis’ rise to become a prominent military leader through a four-decade long career was also influenced by the leadership style/approach he utilized as follows…

Combative Approach On and Off the Battlefield

As a general of the army, Mattis would seriously frighten and worry US enemies. He was an opinionated leader who was not afraid to say it like it is (Szoldra, 2016). As an opinionated leader who was not afraid to say like it is, General Mattis utilized a similar style to George S. Patton who was known to be blunt. As outlined by Thompson (2016), during the course of his career part of Mattis’ appeal was his inclination to offer is straightforward, and at times, imprudent, opinions. Since his days in the U.S Marines up until the present day, James Mattis is loved and revered by his subordinates in the marines, who hold in the highest regard not only for his preparedness to bear hardship but also his sharp sense of humor: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to ill everybody you meet” (Thompson, 2016).

Moreover, Mattis states that he enjoyed brawling and considered shooting people to be a lot of fun. General Mattis was renowned as the “Mad Dog” because of his combative approach on and off the battlefield. He is compared to General George S. Patton who is a military general renowned for his tactical brilliance, profane language, and merciless style in the battlefield (Filkins, 2017). For example, when General Mattis met with local leaders early in the Iraq War, he told them, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: if you fuck with me, I will kill you all” (Filkins, 2017).

Strategic Thinker

General James Mattis would constantly engage in deep thinking on and off the battlefield. One of the key aspects encompasses his ability to comprehend the significance of perceiving the contemporary through the lens of the past. In addition, Mattis insists on the importance of reading, which enables one to learn or see things through the experiences of others (Carl, 2016). Mattis points out that owing to his avid level of reading; he has been able to avoid being caught flat-footed by any circumstances he faced. Despite the fact that reading does not have all the answers, it provides light in a dark path (Russell, 2013).

Through deep thinking, Mattis emulated the style of Sun Tzu who is one of the renowned military generals in China and a philosopher. As an outstanding military strategist, Sun Tzu is recognized for writing the Art of War. One of the key strategic lessons and tactics outlined by Sun Tzu was that the general who is successful in the battles makes numerous calculations in his temple prior to the battle whereas the one who is unsuccessful undertakes minimal calculations. Sun Tzu was well known for preparing in advance through the generation of well-established plans and the consideration of a range of tactical combinations that facilitated his success (Brim, 2013). Through adopting Sun Tzu strategy of deep calculations, General Mattis was quick and composed regardless of task at hand because he would develop well-established plans prior to the task or battle.


One of the most critical components towards the success of a military leader in providing leadership and direction to his troops is use of suitable behaviors. Without demonstrating….....

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Bonekemper, E.H. (1999). How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War. Fredericksburg, Virginia: Sergeant Kirklands Museum.

Brim, D. (2013). 7 Powerful Lessons Sun Tzu can teach you about Strategy. Filled to the Brim. Retrieved from:

Carl, J. (2016). General Mattis Is a Great Man — and a Good One. National Review. Retrieved from:

Filkins, D. (2017, May 29). James Mattis: A Warrior in Washington. The New Yorker. Retrieved from:

Idriss, S. (2017). Mattis plan must confront ISIS on and off the battlefield. The Hill.

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