The L Word

We are constantly being assailed by stuff about leadership. How to be a better leader, how to think like a leader, what would the greatest leaders do? There is a huge global industry around teaching everyone to be a leader, but one wonders how much of this exhortation is of any value, or indeed is actually used outside conferences and middle management away days?

Books on the topic are legion, not to mention training courses and endless sage thoughts from management gurus. Trying to cut through this jungle of advice, academic research and sometimes frankly whacko ideas can be an exhausting if not fruitless task. So where to find straightforward advice?

For me still one of the most interesting observations on leadership was from German General, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord who in 1933 as Chief of the Army High Command, supervised the composition of the Wehrmacht manual on military command. Here are his thoughts on who to select for high command and they still seems fresh and pertinent today; and in barely more than a hundred words!


I divide my officers into four groups.

There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined.

Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff.

The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties.

Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.

One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

Hammerstein-Equord was side-lined into forced retirement by Hitler in early 1934 – one wonders which group he would have placed the corporal turned Fuhrer?

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