Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why generals failed

For those interested in military history (and in management), Nigel Davies in rethinking history had two interesting posts discussing first US and then British generals who failed during the Second World War. He concluded:

The key point to be made from these examples is that even the best men need to be carefully shaped into their rolls as competent battlefield leaders. The vast majority of Western Allied generals during the Second World War had little chance to develop their skills before being thrown into a situation for which they were often not ready. The fault was usually that of their superiors, particularly those who lacked the ability to assess the real capabilities of the men they were promoting in an objective fashion. (However it must be pointed out that sometimes the higher ups had little choice. Democracies almost always go to war ill-prepared, and those in charge often have to assign the best fits they can. Throughout the war Brooke lamented that he did not have enough good leaders, but that he could not find better alternatives.)

Good generals do not spring magically out of the ground. They have to be nurtured. This requires not only an opportunity for slow and well supported development, but also the fortune of having a superior officer who knows which people are best suited to what sort of development. Ideally there will also be an opportunity to give them the time they will need to be ready.

I don't think that the role of experience and of good oversight in the development of managers can be overstated.

Australia does pretty well in the management of responses to natural disasters because we have people who have had lots of experience in the area. Conversely, if you look at some of the recent delivery failures at Commonwealth and state levels, they can be traced back to inadequate management experience of the type required for successful delivery.  

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