Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Gronski enjoyed plenty of triumphs during a 40-year career that combined high-ranking roles in the military and in the civilian sector. His biggest lessons, though? They came from making mistakes.
He explains why and opens up about all of his secrets to success in his new book “Iron-Sharpened Leadership: Transforming Hard-Fought Lessons Into Action,” released in June.
“From my experience leading soldiers in the Army to my experience leading employees in a work environment, I learned a great deal of lessons,” he said. “Along the way, just like anybody, especially if you take on hard assignments, you do make mistakes. And I have felt when I make mistakes, I always learn more from that than I do from doing something well.”
Gronski has done many things well, including leading a group of 15,000 soldiers during a three-year stint as the deputy commanding general at U.S. Army Europe before retiring in June 2019. His impressive resume also details serving 12 years on active duty and consulting at Fortune 500 companies during his time in the Pennsylvania National Guard.
He has also faced his share of struggles. Gronski admitted to instances of arrogance early in his career. In “Iron-Sharpened Leadership,” he details lessons learned during his time leading a small team as a colonel in Lithuania.
“I thought after leading 850 soldiers successfully, leading four military personnel in this remote country would be a piece of cake, but I underestimated the difficulty of leading small teams,” he said. After one of his majors confronted Gronski about dissent among the ranks, even telling him that he was “breaking the team apart,” Gronski said he realized the importance of trust in an organization.
“If an organization doesn’t have trust, everyone has to watch each other’s back instead of looking ahead at the objective,” he said. “In an environment like that it’s pretty hard to effectively and efficiently get to where you need to get.”
Gronski uses stories like these — his own and those of others he has learned from — to create a compelling narrative and make points that his audience can latch onto in his latest book, he said.
“I think stories are very powerful. They provide a teachable perspective to others. Most people will remember a story before they will remember a concept.”
“Iron-Sharpened Leadership,” a guide Gronski hopes readers will “keep at arm’s length on their desk” is broken up into digestible chapters covering the three components of his leadership philosophy — character, competence, and resilience. They are structured so they don’t have to be read in any particular order, and he added that readers don’t have to be in a formal position of leadership or even in the military to benefit from the contents.
“It’s even helpful to parents or leaders in a family unit,” he explained. “It casts a broad net. Stories apply to all sorts of people. It’s a good book for aspiring leaders, those new to leadership, and experienced leaders looking for new techniques and approaches.”
This is the second book for Gronski, who said he didn’t intend to become a writer in his retirement years but felt called to do so. His journey as an author began with “The Ride of Our Lives,” which documented a 4,000-mile bicycle trip he took with his wife more than 35 years ago.
With “Iron-Sharpened Leadership,” he goes in a new direction with the goal of teaching others the value of growing from others. The title is a nod to Proverbs 27:17 and the idea that one person sharpens another.
“I think the stories are very inspiring, not necessarily the stories about me but stories of people I have served with worked with or served with,” he said. “I didn’t want to keep those stories to myself. I wanted to share them to help other people become inspired and to learn some of the hard lessons I have learned.”
“Iron-Sharpened Leadership: Transforming Hard-Fought Lessons Into Action” is available now for purchase on Amazon.