Milley Offers Leadership Lessons to Today’s Soldiers

Milley Offers Leadership Lessons to Today’s Soldiers

Gen Mark Milley
Photo by: U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith

Today’s Army demands leaders with physical and moral courage, said retired Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 39th Army chief of staff.

“You’ve got to be able to stand there in times of intense discussions or stress, lean forward and realize that … millions of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have given their lives to preserve [the U.S.] Constitution,” Milley said Feb. 13 during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report webinar. “You’ve got to have the physical courage to do that and the moral courage … to do that.”

A Massachusetts native, Milley graduated from Princeton University in 1980. During an Army career that spanned over 40 years, Milley held command and staff positions in six divisions and Special Forces. His commands include the 10th Mountain Division, III Corps and Army Forces Command.

As the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 2019 to September 2023, Milley helped lead the U.S. military through several pivotal events, including a pandemic, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As the son of a Navy corpsman who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and who grew up in a “patriotic” community, Milley learned the value of military service at a young age.

“I grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood in a little suburb of Boston, … [where] close to 100% of the adults in one way or another served in World War II,” said Milley, whose mother was a Navy nurse during World War II. “I was very fortunate to grow up in that environment, and they imbued … a sense that this is a great country, this is a country worth serving, [and] this is a country that we should pay back.”

As Army leaders grow, Milley emphasized that mistakes sometimes offer the best leadership lessons.

“Leadership lessons often come from lots of mistakes and things that you’ve learned over the years,” he said. “You get good leadership lessons from those that you want to emulate, and you get bad leadership lessons from those you’d never want to emulate. So, I’ve got 1,000s of leadership lessons.”

The best leaders don’t “have some sort of grand plan” for their career but “take it day by day, do the right thing and focus on doing the hard jobs well,” Milley said.

Serving in the military is still worth it today, Milley said. “There’s a lot of good days, there’s a lot of bad days too. … Any form of military service is a life of sacrifice,” he said. “I would say that military service is very worth it because you’re serving 325 million Americans. You’re serving ... for children … to enjoy the fruits of life, liberty and happiness in the future. That’s something that knows no price, in my mind.”