Leadership on the Battlefield

Feb 13


Eric Garner

Eric Garner

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The battlefield is the true test of leadership. This article explores the principles of 3 leading generals in battle.

Here are three sets of leadership principles as practised by 3 of the most effective military leaders of the last half century: General Bernard Montgomery,Leadership on the Battlefield Articles General Douglas MacArthur, and General Colin Powell.

1. Monty's Principles. General Bernard Montgomery was sent to the demoralised Allied forces in North Africa in one of the worst periods of World War II in 1942 shortly after the fall of Tobruk. On arrival, he immediately set out the ten principles by which he would lead his men. This is how he put them to his officers:

1. First, there must be a change of atmosphere, then

2. two-way trust

3. teamwork

4. clear objectives

5. clear communications6. self-belief

7. adequate resources

8. an insistence on good performance

9. humanity

10. controlled aggression towards the enemy.

He then warned his officers that if anyone didn't believe they could follow these principles, they should leave at once. Nobody left. Shortly after, Monty led the Allies to their crushing victory at El Alamein and turned the balance of the war.

2. MacArthur's 17 Questions. Douglas MacArthur was leader of American forces in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. He led the assault to re-capture the Philippines which turned the tide in favour of the Allied forces. His principles of leadership were formulated in a series of 17 questions, which MacArthur kept in a wallet in the inside pocket of his uniform. These are the questions he asked himself:

1. Do I heckle my subordinates or strengthen and encourage them?

2. Do I use moral courage in getting rid of subordinates who have proved themselves beyond doubt to be unfit?

3. Have I done all in my power by encouragement, incentive and spur to salvage the weak and erring?

4. Do I know by NAME and CHARACTER a maximum number of subordinates for whom I am responsible? Do I know them intimately?

5. Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives and administration of the job?

6. Do I lose my temper at individuals?

7. Do I act in such a way as to make my individuals want to follow me?

8. Do I delegate tasks that should be mine?

9. Do I arrogate everything to myself and delegate nothing?

10. Do I develop my subordinates by placing on each one as much responsibility as he can stand?

11. Am I interested in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if he were a member of my own family?

12. Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?

13. Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?

14. Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy?

15. Is my door open to my subordinates?

16. Do I think more of POSITION (STATUS) than JOB?

17. Do I correct a subordinate in front of others?

(Source: "The West Point Way Of Leadership" by Colonel Larry R Donnithorne)

3. Powell's Principles. General Colin Powell was Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993 and one of the key leaders of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the military campaigns to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. The following list of leadership principles comes from an article by Powell in Air Force magazine in March 1991.

1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

2. Get mad, then get over it.

3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that, when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

4. It can be done!

5. Be careful what you choose, you may get it.

6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.

7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.

8. Check small things.

9. Remain calm. Be kind.

10. Have a vision. Be demanding.

11. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.

12. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Throughout history some of the most notable leaders have been leaders in battle. Taking soldiers into conflict, particularly where outcomes are uncertain, is the ultimate test of leadership. That's why the principles of the best wartime leaders are not only fascinating glimpses into their minds at their toughest times, but valuable lessons for the rest of us.