Ann Dunwoody. A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2015. 288 pp. $25.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7382-1779-6.
Reviewed by Lisa Beckenbaugh (Benedictine College)
Published on H-War (February, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Ann Dunwoody is a unique woman. She overcame incredible odds to become America's first female four-star general. When she first entered the Women's Army Corps (WAC), an organization that at the time was separate from the US Army, in 1974, Dunwoody had no desire to devote herself to a lifetime of service in the military. She planned to complete two years in WAC and then become a high school teacher and coach, but as is often the case, during her journey she met some remarkable soldiers who pushed her to strive for more in the military. In the army at a time when opportunities for women were expanding, Dunwoody took full advantage of every opening given to her. She credits her first sergeant, Wendell Bowen, for instilling in her the drive to never settle for less than her best. He removed gender from the discussion and stressed excellence at all times in all things. Dunwoody could not have asked for a better mentor. At a time when some men in the military saw women as a hindrance, Bowen reached beyond stereotypes and treated Dunwoody as a soldier first. Dunwoody credits this early training as a significant factor to her success at all levels.
This is not an autobiography of Dunwoody's life or even army career. It is a book focused on the lessons she learned about leadership while in the army. For her, great leaders never stop "learning, refining, growing and adapting" (p. 24). Dunwoody imparts eleven key thoughts on leadership, starting with the idea that you should never walk by a mistake. When you walk by a mistake, "then you just set a new, lower standard" (p. 39). My favorite was the Mirror, Mirror Syndrome, a "misguided need for affirmation and tuning out other perspectives" (p. 141). People are drawn to what is familiar, like us, and people, especially great leaders, need to be open to different perspectives, even if that makes them uncomfortable.
The book is written in a conversational style that jumps from topic to topic regarding Dunwoody's army career to make certain points about leadership. At times this is distracting; it is difficult, for example, to keep track of dates and locations. Also, it leads to some redundancy in parts of the storytelling, but not enough to detract from the overall theme of the book. This is a good story of someone who overcame great odds on her road to success in the army. It is well worth reading for anyone looking to hone their leadership skills.
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Lisa Beckenbaugh. Review of Dunwoody, Ann, A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General.
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