Leadership Lessons of Field Marshall Montgomery

As we begin 2008, the threat of recession is unnerving and the world's finance markets which carry the wealth of their top companies are dipping and diving.
This crisis provides a challenge for business leaders So what can we do? We would be comforted by advice from successful leaders. One such leader, who kept a calm head and urged the Allies to victory in World War II, was the much-loved Field Marshal Montgomery. What would he say to the business leaders of today?
We have a good idea because after World War II, Field Marshal Montgomery wrote his own memoirs which include General Sir Charles Loewen who helped plan D Day. Here at Loewen & Partners, we like to draw on the expertise of Montgommery as experienced by our relative.
Having met with many captains of industry, he was intrigued with their similarity of roles. He spent much time debating with them on how to achieve great leadership whether in industry or the military. The following is a summary of his main ideas left in his words as much as possible.
Montgomery believed leadership to be: The capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” In particular, Montgomery liked to quote Harry Truman, “A leader is a person who has the ability to get people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” This has a warm and comforting ring to it but many leaders find it challenging to be able to do just that. Montgomery does give a great deal of insight for leaders today how they can bring people to rally around the company's performance.
To be effective, Montgomery says a leader must understand what their people will be asking about their leader:
  1. Where are you going with our enterprise?
  2. Will you go all out for our enterprise or campaign?
  3. Will you go all out for us?
  4. Have you the talents and equipment? (This includes your knowledge, your past experience and your courage.)
  5. Will you take decisions, accepting full responsibility for them and take risks where necessary?
  6. Will you then delegate and decentralize, having first created an organization in which there are definite focal points of decisions so that the master plan can be implemented smoothly and quickly?

The best leaders know that they must answer the above questions fully to gain support from their people. Montgomery emphatically states that a leader must:

  1. be able to make decisions in action and maintain calmness in the crisis.
  2. know what he wants.
  3. see his objectives clearly and strive to attain it;
  4. let everyone else know what he wants and what are the basic fundamentals of his policy.
  5. create ‘atmosphere”.

Montgomery says,

"Some commanders consider that once their plan is made and orders issued, they need take no further part in the proceedings. Never was there a greater mistake.
Leaders need a firm grip, not interference, or cramping initiative of subordinates; indeed it is by the initiative of subordinates that the battle is won. They need to get out to the people."

He goes on to emphasize, “The strength of an organization is, and must be, far greater than the sum total of its parts." Remember, this was written before Peter Drucker's best sellers on how to be an effective executive in an organization. To get a sense of the thinking behind Montgommery's actions, read these selections from his writing on leadership:

"That extra strength is provided by morale, fighting spirit and mutual confidence between the leaders and the led and especially with the high command and the quality of comradeship and many other intangible spiritual qualities.”

"The raw material with which the general has to deal is men. The same is true in civil life. Managers of large industrial concerns have not always understood this; they think their raw material is iron ore, or cotton, or rubber – not men but commodities. In conversation with them, I have disagreed and insisted that their raw material is men. Many generals have also not grasped this and that is why they have failed.”

"A leader must understand human nature. Bottled up in men are great emotional forces. It these are given an outlet, they can be used in a positive and constructive way, and which warms the heart and excites the imagination. If the approach to the human factor is cold and impersonal, then you achieve nothing. If you gain the confidence and trust of your men and they feel their best interests are safe in your hands, then you have in your possession a priceless asset and the greatest achievements possible."

"The morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war and the best way to achieve high morale is by success. Communicate your successes."

"All men are different and you need to match the personality to the job. Don’t
try and make a warm personality sit in the back office, counting figures."

Montgomery has comments on strategic planning which are still useful today:

Operations must develop within a premeditated pattern of action. If this is not done, the result will be compromise between the individual conceptions of subordinates about how operations should develop.The master plan must not be undermined by the independent ideas of individual subordinate commanders at particular moments in the battle.”

Montgomery believed there was a strong use or “place of the conference”. He advises,

"It will be weak if it is just to gather ideas. A leader needs to be well
prepared before starting the process.He needs to have previous thoughts, he must
have made wide field visits, he must have strong staff contact and not just the commanders one level below, he must listen to staff and once again, not just the
commanding staff. The commander should know what he wants to do and if it is possible."

If a conference is necessary, Montgomery advises that it should be to give orders and to assess where everyone thinks they are going. The leader should not bring the men to him but should go out to the people. "Do not have a conference at Head Office." Montgomery again emphasizes,

“The big mistake is to think that once the order is given there is nothing more for the leader to do. The leader must take it upon himself to outline the plan in his own words and images and put it in writing. The Commander must write this himself first. Staff and subs can then take the draft and initial plan and fill in the more detailed work. When the plan is based on the written word of the commander it minimizes mistakes and powers action."

One of Montgomery’s heroes was Sir Winston Churchill. Montgomery liked to read Churchill’s study of Marlborough and quotes,

“The success of the commander does not arise from following rules or models. It consists in an absolutely new comprehension of the dominant facts of the situation at the time, and all the forces at work. Every great operation of war is unique. What is wanted is a profound appreciation of the actual event. There is no surer road to disaster than to imitate the plans of bygone heroes and fit them to novel situations.”
The senior commander should keep himself from becoming immersed in detail. He needs to push this down to his subordinate officers. Do not aim to see every tree because you will not see the woods. The leader should make time for quiet thoughts and reflections."

"The commander needs to be thinking at least two campaigns ahead, not just of the upcoming battle. The Master Plan is a changing document. Successes gained in battle can be used in the next one and the ones planned further ahead.”

Above all, Montgomery advises that leaders must realize that people have a need for truth. Montgomery says that people always find out the truth and, if the truth has been distorted or delayed, then there will be a loss of confidence. Timely truth is critical. The truth will out anyway. In summary, Montgomery believed leadership to be an exercise in effective influence. He believed that your leadership is measured by the strength of flame that burns in peoples’ hearts for the common cause, and the magnetism that draws hearts towards you.

The above article is taken from the book:
Field Marshal Montgomery, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery; My Doctrine of Command, Collins, London, 1958.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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