A Worthwhile Management Book

Thomas E. Ricks’ book, “The Generals”, is the history and essentially a performance evaluation of more than a dozen US Army Generals from World War II through 2012. It is not very flattering for some generals.

It is a well-written management and leadership book. Although not intended to be a textbook its examples of what led to successes and failures may be helpful for civilian business managers – including members of Boards of Directors and Chief Executive Officers.

Although the entire book is interesting, its reading can be limited to the first chapter. It covers General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, and describes how he built the Army into an effective fighting force in World War II. Marshall was faced with two equally daunting issues – people and equipment.

In 1939 the Army was too small in the total number of officers and enlisted personnel. Its leadership was poor and needed to be overhauled. There was not enough equipment and what was available was too antiquated to be effective – most of it dated from World War I. He started in 1939 with an unqualified for battle 197,000 soldiers led largely by inept senior officers and ended in 1945 with 8.3 million and victory.

General Marshall’s leadership and management tenets included a “brutally” straightforward style with everyone including President Roosevelt – he practiced “speak truth to power”. He employed the management practice of “removal” of any senior officer with substandard performance – he fired hundreds to build a successful organization. He was a “tough taskmaster” – but consistent, rational and respected throughout the Army’s ranks.

For a more complete summary of the book click on this link: “The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today” by Thomas E. Ricks.

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