Leadership and the Post-9/11 Terrorist Environment

Complex, sophisticated terrorist organizations require complex, sophisticated solutions—this much Admiral Eric Olson, Former Commander of US Special Operations Command, knows to be true. The post-9/11 terrorist landscape is more fluid than ever before, and much about the Islamic State’s motivations and ambitions remain unclear. Olson believes “knowledge trumps doctrine;” therefore, leaders must be willing to evolve and continuously learn from the challenges they face. While deviating from the script takes courage, Olson maintains, being agile as a leader is imperative to success in the most hostile regions.

Eric Olson is the President of ETO Group, LLC, an independent consulting firm that supports a wide range of private and public sector organizations.

Currently, he serves as an Adjunct Professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. In addition, Olson has joined the board of directors of Iridium Communications, Inc., Under Armour, Inc., the non-profit Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum. He also serves as a senior advisor to the Department of Homeland Security.

Olson retired from the United States Navy as an Admiral in 2011, after more than 38 years of military service. He served in special operations units throughout his career and was engaged in several contingency operations and commanded at every level.

He received numerous military decorations, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star for heroism, and the Bronze Star for valor. His foreign awards include appointment as an Officer in the French Legion of Honor.

Olson’s military career culminated as the Head of the United States Special Operations Command, where he was responsible for the mission readiness and deployment of all Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Special Operations Forces. In this capacity, he led over 60,000 people and managed an annual budget in excess of ten billion dollars. His duties required a significant amount of interagency and international collaboration.

Olson graduated from the United States Naval Academy and Naval Postgraduate School. He is a designated specialist in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

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