Written by Patty Rasmussen Tuesday, February 14 2012Snapshot: Paula Broadwell, author “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus”
Paula Broadwell is a research associate at Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of London. She’s also the author of “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” The New York Times bestselling biography about one of the most transformational military leaders of the past 20 years. Petraeus has since retired from the military and is now director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Like the general, Broadwell graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point; she spent over a year embedded with the general’s staff in Afghanistan while researching the book. She lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband, Scott, and two sons.
Womenetics: What are the leadership takeaways you learned from General Petraeus?
Paula Broadwell: “All In” is a portrait of strategic leadership from which leaders of all ranks from all sectors can learn something about vision, leadership on the line and effective management, among other valuable insights. It’s a study of how to galvanize organizational adaptation and innovation - an exploration of how one individual can inspire and lead change.
Womenetics: Are his leadership principles transferable to the private sector?
Broadwell: Absolutely. These principles and many others exhibited in the book are universal.
These are values-oriented leadership principles for CEOs, line workers and even parents dealing with their own insurgents (toddlers) at home.
Petraeus has an indefatigably positive attitude, and he lives his admonition to others: give energy – don’t be an "oxygen thief" – doing so through praise and encouragement, mentoring and example, all the while ensuring that he conveys forthright assessments and reports to those above and below.
Among Petraeus' favorite Churchill quotes is this, "A pessimist sees a challenge in every opportunity; an optimist sees an opportunity with every challenge." He has faced many obstacles and challenges along his own journey, but he always sought to look on the bright side, embracing the axiom that everything happens for a purpose in life. I aspire to do the same.
Womenetics: You were working in a male-dominated culture, living in a patriarchal society (Afghanistan). Did being a woman hinder or help the process of researching?
Broadwell: One of my favorite tongue-in-cheek quotes is from Marilyn Monroe: "I don't mind being a woman in a man's world, as long as I can be a woman in it." Personally, I enjoy working in a man’s world, the military, because the added competitiveness in this environment has pushed me to excel in many ways - to uphold high standards for myself in this man's world, and thus represent executive women to the best of my ability, and to push myself physically, an important quality in the military. While working with the military in Afghanistan, I was ostensibly back with my "tribe" - my classmates from West Point or military colleagues with whom I'd served on active duty. It was like a reunion in many ways.
As for my work in Afghanistan, I never felt like my views or inquiries were dismissed because I was a woman. On the contrary, most Afghan men seemed fascinated with a woman who had some depth of knowledge about their country and her own and was invested in telling an accurate story. They seemed eager to engage. Perhaps being a woman actually worked in my advantage in both cases as I was in the minority but could hold my own. The bottom line is that I never felt being a woman has ever hindered me in my military or academic research journey, and I'm grateful to be able to say that.
Womenetics: You described yourself as a "soccer mom" in an interview. How were you able to balance family life with the embedding? Did you go home? Or did you treat it as a deployment?
Broadwell: I like to joke that I am a “soccer mom,” but I say it with tongue-in-cheek. I am also proud to be a successful author and blogger, Army veteran, community activist, military consultant and athlete. I wear all of these hats with pride, but mother and wife are the most important.
While I was writing the book, however, I was extremely focused on my role as a war correspondent. I traveled to Afghanistan for two to three weeks at a time, returning to the U.S. for approximately three to four weeks at a time. When I was home, I was working with my developmental editor, Vernon Loeb, to write up the "stories" I'd just retrieved from the field. I conducted over 400 interviews and had to work hard to keep up with transcribing those in between my trips. I also maintained email correspondence with my sources in Afghanistan to keep a finger on the pulse of operations.
There are so many working women who struggle to strike a balance between demanding jobs that require thoughtful pontification outside of the 9-5 hours. Many of us have demanding family lives, which include domestic tasks as well as "soccer mom" and carpool duties. I am fortunate to be married to my best friend and an incredibly supportive husband who appreciates his wife's independence and drive.
We found that we had to simplify life by outsourcing what we could: hiring cleaners, having groceries delivered and so forth. My husband was obviously willing to share a greater portion of domestic responsibilities while I was gone, and he graciously put up with my absence for most of 2010-2011, whether I was in Afghanistan, Washington D.C. or my "writing cave" in the wee hours of the night. I owe him a great debt of gratitude, as I also owe my mother who helped watch our boys and my "village" of girlfriends, also working mothers, who took turns helping with kid activities, etc. I couldn't have done it without them!
Every woman has to define her own sense of balance in life. I am a workaholic, yet when I am with my kids, I try my best to tune out from the iPhone and tune into them. Like many other working mothers, this forces me to have to create more hours in the day to knock out the items on my to-do list. During the final thrust to turn in my manuscript last fall, I was only sleeping four hours a night. While on the book tour, I get about five hours a night. I figure I can sleep when I'm dead, but my boys will only be “snugglers” for a finite period of time.
Broadwell: The greatest takeaway has to do with what I learned while embedding with troops in the desert, mountains and river valleys of Afghanistan where (military) strategy plays out: I was inspired by the willingness of this generation's young military leaders to leave their bases each day not knowing if they would face a handshake or hand grenade/Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which have maimed and killed tens of thousands of our troopers. They are willing and able to take these risks each day to serve their country.
In turn, I feel America owes them a debt of gratitude, especially the 472,000 troopers with invisible war wounds such as post-traumatic stress disorder brought on in part from the experience and exposure to the many horrors of war. I came away from this experience feeling a moral obligation to help them and to call other Americans to give back to those who have sacrificed so much. I am delighted to be able to donate significant book proceeds to a cause that helps wounded warriors reintegrate in their communities.
Womenetics: Your book is on The New York Times Bestseller List. Is that the response you expected the book to receive?
Broadwell: I was elated. This project started as my doctoral dissertation, so to flip that research into a product that suddenly garnered global interest was truly beyond my aspirations. I was thrilled and even a bit emotional when I heard the news. It was gratifying to see the hard work bear fruit!
Womenetics: What is next on the horizon for you?
Broadwell: I ultimately had to put my dissertation on the back burner. I will quickly finish that after the book tour and a host of events with the Penguin Speakers' Bureau. With all the media attention the book has garnered and the opportunity to appear on various news shows, I have been offered new job opportunities as a commentator on major news networks and may explore this option going forward. In the interim, I am working on a second book - a business-community oriented book on executive leadership.
Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD, and Blue Ridge Country.