Radical Inclusion by General Martin Dempsey & Ori Brafman

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My Perspective on Radical Inclusion

I purchased this book over the weekend and finished it in a little over five hours on Sunday. Radical Inclusion is the best leadership book I’ve read since I attended NCOA (Noncommissioned Officer Academy) in 2014. It is an eye-opening perspective on leadership values from two entirely different sides of life: a 41-year-old Distinguished Teaching Fellow at University California, Berkeley and a 41-year Distinguished Army General Officer and the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-- the two came together and created a conscientious, yet humanistic approach to leadership values that are needed for an ever-evolving world. This body of work is a 192-page epiphany of multiple “ah ha” moments that seemed surreal and presented a common-sense manifestation of leadership, mentorship, and guidance. The foundational leadership principles in this book were predicated on one single noun that would be the most important word to solidify clear, leadership methodologies and change how men and women make a significant difference: inclusion. 

            I had the honor of serving under General Dempsey’s leadership (2012-2015) when he was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff. At the time, I was the Enlisted Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense- then Dr. Ash Carter. Because of my role in the Pentagon and pursuing a doctoral degree (in which my research focus was centralized on the largest acquisition to date: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), I sat in several meetings with him. I’ve always appreciated his no nonsense, straightforward, and swift approach to leadership. He continues to have the best leadership advice and is an embodiment of a leader on and off the field. Reading his leadership experiences in this book brought back those memories.

            It’s remarkable how General Dempsey and Ori Brafman’s first encounter was based on a deployed captain’s inquiry on whether he [General Dempsey] heard of The Starfish and the Spider. This moment created an unconventional collaboration between the two and the rest is history. 

            Brafman gave an unorthodox perspective on inclusion, emphasizing differences that focuses on competition in leadership. He reminisces about his most infallible idea of the “McVegan” burger that was more than just a marketing technique and innovative success, but it changed the narrative of inclusion over separatism, capitalism, and competition. The McVegan ideal wasn’t a new symbol of the latest fad. Instead, it was a symbol on dynamically altering how people viewed change without the negative stigma of winning an individual or group over or stealing competition. It was a marketing venture that became a valuable leadership principal in this book, again inclusion. Brafman also takes an in-depth look at “fake news” and how it’s become a vulnerability to the facts. Discussing the riot at a protest at the University of California, Berkeley became the pivotal foundation in Radical Inclusion. Understanding the ideology of “digital echo” was imperative because it’s the reason for many unsubstantiated, erroneous, or “fake news” information, which causes concern for the protection and sustainment of real truths and facts. 

            Controlling the narrative was a dominant force in this book; it gave me a different insight on how competitors’ perspective of the “narrative” could potentially disparage truths, as “narratives are derivatives of the truth” (p. 23). Another fierce insight about this perspective in leadership was the sentiment that “narratives are won by drowning the countermessage” (p. 23). Brafman and General Dempsey expressed that the facts are predicated on “expert validation” where narratives required reiteration due to lack of credible insight. Narratives can’t win by claiming inaccuracy; therefore, mitigate the countermessage to prove “the point.”

            Radical Inclusion “included” multiple leadership principles that can easily work for the military and civilian sectors; I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to lead and do so through innovative, transformation, and valid information. The book expresses the importance of being a leader. Being a good leader is about having power to create order and act on decisions. However, “relinquishing some of the power” and giving subordinates the opportunity to make decisions that you can trust is the “power” to leadership. Furthermore, power is based on the ability to act so leaders can make swift, but intelligent decisions to complex issues (Dempsey & Brafman, 2018). I truly believe in this ideal and understand leaders can’t do it all and it’s not about controlling everything and making decisions alone. It’s about knowing that you have a strong, competent team, who have strong leadership abilities themselves to make decisions for mission objectives. It’s also about inclusion and giving “everyone a seat at the table,” as it’s important to hear all ideas and have your people feel that they are valuable and contribute to the organization. Finally, it’s also about working as a unit and the leader guides emerging leaders to be the best they can be. Like General Dempsey said (I paraphrase), “if those who follow you don’t want to be like you, you’re doing something wrong.”

Dr. Mo


Dempsey, M. General & Brafman, O. (2018). Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should have Taught Us About Leadership. Missionday.

You can purchase this book at here.