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Vol. 7, No. 1
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

© 2009 William A. Cohen, PhD

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK:  Increasing Human Efficiency in Business by Walter Dill Scott – CLICK HERE

Walter Dill Scott was one of the first applied psychologists. He received his PhD in Germany from the University of Leipzig and returned to the U.S. and Northwestern University where he headed the department of psychology. When the U.S. entered World War I, he offered his services to the Army by helping them apply his principles to personnel selection. His success was such that he was awarded the military’s highest non-combat award, the Distinguished Service Medal. Scott was years ahead of his time and many of the well-known psychological concepts applied to management and leadership in modern times are founded in his work.


Recent Articles by Dr. Cohen:

Leadership Laws – It was Drucker’s Favorite Book   from Leadership Excellence Magazine

People Have no Limits – Even after Failure from Human Resources IQ.

A Sure Way to Fail from

What to Do about the Crisis from

Drucker: Every Leader Must Declare his Expectations from

Peter Drucker of the Value of Ignorance from Performance and Profits

Peter Drucker’s Story of Two Vice Presidents (Why What Everybody Knows Is Frequently Wrong) from Moving Ahead

Webcast: The Lost Lessons of Peter Drucker from The American Management Association

Five Things William Cohen Has Learned From Peter Drucker from CIO Magazine

How the World’s Most Celebrated Management Consultant Got His Title from Industry Week

The Night Peter Drucker Declared He Was Not My Father from

Drucker’s Lost Lesson from Training Magazine

Effective Leadership in Leadership Excellence


by ã William A. Cohen, PhD 2008

A friend of mine worked as a project manager in his father’s $ 10 million engineering company. He was his father’s only son, and had been well educated at one of the country’s most prestigious private colleges. However, his father didn’t believe in sharing power with a progeny. He felt that there would be plenty of time to train his son to run the company in the future. Nine years after starting work at his father’s company in a relatively junior position, his father suddenly died of a heart attack. In one day, he went from middle manager to the top job in the company.

I met this man only five years later. In five years, his company had quadrupled in size. His leadership was heralded by experts, and he and his company were written up in several important business magazines. How had this unique individual taken charge and asserted his leadership under crisis conditions? How had he managed to do so well? If you want to know something, there is frequently only one way to find out. That is to ask. So I asked.

“It wasn’t easy,” my friend said. “First there was the shock over my father’s death. Than there was finding out the company’s situation. My father hadn’t confided in anyone. Everyone had a little piece of the puzzle. No one had the full story.

“The most difficult thing, however, was to assert my leadership. I was now leading people who had been very senior to me in the company. Some had been with the company since before I was born. Not all of them were able to adjust to my style, my goals, or even just me.  Some absolutely refused to accept my leadership.

“I tried to make it as easy as possible for them, and to give them every chance. But when you got right down to it, I was in charge and was responsible. I had no choice but to fire more than a few.

“Gradually, things got better. People could see that my policies and strategies were working to improve the position of the company. They got behind me completely.

“When I think back to those first few months, I don’t know how I did it. It was the toughest thing I had to do in my life. But I had to do it. I had no alternative.”

How would you like to take charge of an organization under those circumstances? As a leader, sometimes you don’t have any choice.


A Leader Must Take Charge in Crises

When Lieutenant General Bernard L. Montgomery took charge of the British Eight Army in Africa during world War II, he faced major problems. The Eighth Army had been defeated repeatedly by the German General Rommel and his Afrika Korps. After finally winning a victory, Montgomery’s predecessor, General Auchinleck had been persuaded to attack again prematurely. He had been defeated. There was the possibility of an immediate counterattack by Rommel. The Eighth Army had made withdrawal after withdrawal over the months.  Orders were out to prepare for yet another withdrawal. Morale in the Eighth Army was at an all time low. Than Montgomery arrived.

Here’s what Montgomery did immediately.

  • He cancelled all previous orders about withdrawal.
  • He issued orders that in the event of enemy attack, there would be no withdrawal. The Eighth Army would fight on the ground they held. Or in Montgomery’s words, “…if we couldn’t stay there alive, we would stay there dead.”
  • He appointed a new Chief of Staff.
  • He formed a new armored corps from “various bits and pieces.”
  • He changed the basic fighting units from brigade groups and ad hoc columns to full divisions.
  • He initiated plans for an offensive saying, “Our mandate is to destroy Rommel and his Army, and it will be done as soon as we are ready.”

Speaking later of the events of his first day in charge he said, “By the time I went to bed that night, I was tired. But I knew that we were on the way to success.”[1]

Only a few months later, Montgomery’s Eighth Army attacked at El Alamein and won a major victory. It was the turning point of the war in the North African theater of operations. It helped to eventually gain for Montgomery a promotion to Field Marshal. That’s the British equivalent to the rank of full General in the United States. It also won for him the title of Montgomery of Alamein.


What You Need To Do To Take Charge

If you are a leader, there will come a time when you must take charge of a group under difficult circumstances. It may be an old organization that is in trouble. It may be a new organization that you must build from the ground up. It may be an emergency situation. I call these crisis problems, “take charge” situations. When a take charge situation occurs, will you be prepared to take charge?  In a take charge situation, you must take these steps immediately:

1.      Establish your objective.

2.      Communicate with those you lead.

3.      Act boldly.

4.      Be decisive.

5.      Dominate the situation.

6.      Lead by example.

7.      Hire and fire.


Know Where You Are Going . . . Establish Your Objective

Vision is necessary for leadership under all circumstances. Remember, you can’t get where you are going until you know where “there” is. Without vision, you have no “there,” no objective.

When Montgomery was given command of the British Eighth Army, he wasn’t just told, “Here’s your Army, see what you can do with it.” He was given a definite objective by his boss, Field Marshal Alexander:

“My orders from Alexander were quite simple; they were to destroy Rommel and his Army.”[2]

And Montgomery believed that having a clear objective was critical. “I hold the view that the leader must know what he himself wants. He must see his objective clearly and then strive to attain it; he must let everyone else know what he wants and what are the basic fundamentals of his policy. He must, in fact, give firm guidance and a clear lead.”[3]


Leaders In Emergency Situations Must Have Objectives Too

I once watched a videotape that was made of my oldest son’s plebe class as it went through New Cadet Basic Training at West Point. For probably more than a hundred years, this training has been known as “Beast Barracks.” During Beast Barracks, New Cadets are taught the basic skills that they must have in order to function as cadets. Among the many skills my son was taught during his field training was pulmonary resuscitation. One scene on the videotape showed cadets being evaluated in their ability to do this. I was impressed not only in the way they had been taught to perform the resuscitation, but in the positive manner they were taught to give direction in support of the objective of saving life.

As each cadet performed the resuscitation maneuver, he or she would point to an imaginary on-looker and command, “You. Go for an ambulance and return here.” The instructions left no doubt as to which on-looker was being sent and exactly what the on-looker was to do.  What the New Cadets were taught is an excellent example of the leader knowing what he himself wants and striving to attain it. West Point is well aware that their cadets may be called upon to lead on other than the battlefield. So the first rule for taking charge is to have a clear objective of where you want to go or what you want to do.


Now That You Know Your Objective, You Must Communicate It To Others

General Patton was a real believer in communicating. So much so, that in training, he kept a microphone constantly nearby. Porter B. Williamson, one his officers during this period reported:“Our desert radio broadcasting station had one unusual feature. There was a microphone in Gen. Patton’s office and a second microphone was by his bed in his tent. Day and night Gen. Patton could cut off all broadcasting and announce a special message or order from his personal mike. When the music would click off we knew we would hear, ‘This is Gen. Patton.’ “Often Gen. Patton would say, ‘I want every man to be alert tomorrow because we are doing the maneuvers for a lot of brass from Washington who don’t know the first form thing about tanks or desert warfare. We must show them how wars can be won with speed. I am counting on every man.'”[4]

General Patton also believed in answering his own phone. In his book, War As I Knew It, he says: “In my opinion, generals – or at least the Commanding General – should answer their own telephones in daytime. This is not particularly wearisome because few people call a general, except in emergencies, and then they like to get him at once.”[5] Yes, General Patton knew the importance of communication in taking charge, and he spared nothing to insure that he could communicate with those he led. And he wasn’t the only one to use this technique.

Admiral Allen G. Kirk commanded the amphibious landing of the Seventh Army in southern France. He used the ships’ public address systems to broadcast the results of each day’s operation. Loud speakers on every ship under his command heard his words. And as the landing progressed, he gave his sailors and those soldiers who had not yet disembarked a running commentary of the action. You know that a commander who keeps his men that well informed is in charge.[6]

Norm Lieberman, was the project manager working for North American Aviation in charge of the development of the F-100 in the late 1950’s. He used the same technique. A public address system was set up in the factory. From his office, he communicated with his engineers and workmen instantly and effectively. I’m told that the F-100 was completed without cost overruns and in minimum time. The Air Force thought quite a bit of the airplane as well. Maybe our aerospace company leaders should use this technique today.

Colonel “Jumping Jim” Gavin, commander of the 505th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, and later a Lieutenant General, and after his Army career Chairman and President of Arthur D. Little, Inc. couldn’t communicate with his men so easily. Due to security, he couldn’t communicate with his men at all prior to take-off of his historic combat drop in Sicily during World War II. Well how in the world do you communicate with several thousand paratroopers flying in different airplanes without breaking radio silence?  Gavin used a different but equally effective technique. After take-off, every man was given a small slip of paper that read:

“Soldiers of the 505th Combat Team

“Tonight you embark upon a combat mission for which our people and the free people of the world have been waiting for two years.

“You will spearhead the landing of an American Force upon the island of SICILY. Every preparation has been made to eliminate the element of chance. You have been given the means to do the job and you are backed by the largest assemblage of air power in the world’s history.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of every American go with you . . .

James M. Gavin”[7]


How You Say It Is Important Too

Sometimes how you say something is as important as the message itself. Phase your remarks in as colorful and interesting fashion as you can. If you do, your words will spread like wildfire throughout your organizations. General Patton was certainly an expert at this. If you haven’t seen the movie Patton, its worth your time and the price of a ticket just to see George C. Scott faithfully reproducing Patton’s dramatic messages. Few can beat his message to his Third Army on the eve of battle: “Why by God, I actually pity those SOBs we’re going up against. By God, I do.”[8]

But you don’t need to be profane to be colorful or dramatic. Some messages are so powerful that they come down to us through the years, long after they were originally uttered. During the Civil War, it was Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest that said that to win in war you only had to “Git thar fustest with the mostest.” On another day, a subordinate informed General Forest that Federal troops were stretched from his front and were now in his rear. His reply was, “Wall, then we’re in their’n.”[9]

It was a Marine general who commented on his unit’s withdrawal from North Korea after his outnumbered division was surrounded and cut-off by Chinese troops in these famous words: “Retreat, hell. We’re just attacking in another direction.” You may also be familiar with “I have not yet begun to fight,” “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” or “I shall return.” All were uttered by leaders in battle in communicating with their men. They had a tremendous impact on the leader’s taking charge. If you want your words to get out fast . . . to be repeated again and again . . . and maybe to go down in history: communicate in a colorful and interesting way.


Starbuck’s Worst Crisis

According to Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, the worst crisis Starbucks every faced began in June 1994, when a severe frost in Brazil caused coffee prices to rise dramatically.  Schultz got a call from a subordinate. “With that call, my whole life changed – not only for the summer but for the year that followed. In fact, it took two full years to finally work through the problems that hit us that day.” The crisis for Starbucks was complex. It not only involved customers and their willingness to pay higher prices, but Wall Street. Explained Schultz: “I don’t think most Starbucks people really understood the gravity of the situation and how fearful we were. Earnings had been growing more than 50 percent a year for four years, and Wall Street investors were counting on a continuing stream of profits in coming years. If we failed to meet their expectations, our stock price might drop so low we would have trouble raising funds for future expansion.” [10] The big three coffee roasters increased their prices immediately. As the crisis deepened, they raised their prices again. The price of Folgers went up twice in a single week.

Schultz took the lead in communication. He explained the situation to his partners and got their support on price increases. He communicated with his investors and his customers. Schultz communicated in a way likely to get the attention of those he led, and he did so continuously. “We made frequent conference calls and left voice-mail updates nationwide, as well as posting signs in our stores, trying to keep people abreast of the situation. What we tried to do with our customers was to honestly and directly explain that our costs had risen and we had no choice but to pass on a certain amount to them in order to continue to do business.”[11]

If you want to take charge, you must communicate what you want done.


Be Bold

There is an old saying among pilots. It goes like this: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. However, there are no old, bold pilots.” This adage is intended to discourage younger pilots from foolish, reckless, flying . . . except when necessary. There are most certainly times when bold flying and boldness in general is necessary. If there is an objective you are trying to reach…we’ll, than that’s what you are getting paid for as a leader. In some situations, if you fail to be bold, you will not be able to take charge.

Patton was known as “Old Blood And Guts.” He was a take charge, bold, decisive leader. But he was not reckless. His boldness was for a definite purpose. He said: “In planning any operation, it is vital to remember, and constantly repeat to oneself, two things: ‘In war nothing is impossible, provided you use audacity.’ If these two principles are adhered to, with American troops victory is certain.”[12] Let’s look at Patton’s two principles again. They form one concept in two parts. Patton refers only to war. But you will find his concept true in all leadership situations. Nothing is impossible if you use audacity. Audacity is no more than a synonym for boldness. It means that as long as your contemplated actions are not illegal, unethical, or dishonest, you should not be afraid to proceed simply because risk is involved. If you believe you are right, go ahead!


Be A Decisive Leader

People do not like to follow leaders who cannot make up their minds or have trouble coming to a decision. To take charge means coming to a decision and communicating it. In July of 1863, General Meade defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. But because he was indecisive about pursuing Lee, Lee’s Army of Virginia was able to retreat across the Potomac River without further harm. If General Meade had pursued Lee immediately, he could have cut the Army of Northern Virginia off before it crossed the Potomac. Lee’s Army could have been defeated and the war ended that year. Instead, because Lee was allowed to escape, the Civil War went on for another two years with ten of thousands of casualties.

During World War II, a bomber group suffered excessive losses over several difficult missions. Morale was so bad that higher headquarters actually considered disbanding the unit. If that weren’t enough, the group sent 18 bombers on a mission. They ran into such incredible opposition that only six aircraft returned. Now they were really in trouble. If you saw the old movie “Twelve O’Clock High,” with Gregory Peck, you saw a fictionalized account which incorporated this true story. The Group Commander had to take decisive action, or he knew it was all over. He received permission for a “stand-down” of two days.  The first day he ordered the bar opened and allowed his crews to cope with their depression as best they could. Meanwhile he and his staff went to work and planned a program of intense activity for the next day for every man in the group. It began at reveille and lasted until evening. There were inspections, drills, target study, and practice missions. Every man worked hard the entire day. By night they were exhausted and had no difficulty sleeping. On the following day, more relaxed, they flew a successful combat mission without excessive losses. Over the following weeks, replacements came and were trained, and the group was effective until the end of the war.[13]

Maybe you think that you have trouble coming to a decision because you don’t have all the facts. Let me assure you that you will never have all the facts. That’s just the nature of leadership. This means that almost all of the time, you must make decisions without knowing everything that would help you to make a decision. Now it is true that the longer you wait, the more facts you will have. Sometimes it is necessary to wait for important facts before making a decision. But you must weigh the delay against the negative impact. Elements of the situation can change. An opportunity may be lost. Your competition may “Git thar furstest with the mostest.” Those who follow you will at best be uncomfortable at not having a decision. If you make indecisiveness a habit, they will not want to follow you. Some leaders I have seen tell themselves that they are putting off a decision in order to get more facts. But the real reason is that for one reason or another they are afraid to make a decision. Failing to make a decision is also a decision. It is a decision to leave everything to chance or the initiative of others. It is not a sign of a take charge leader. And it ultimately results in a failure. To be a take charge leader, follow the recommendation of W. Clement Stone, the self-made multi-millionaire. Stone says that when you feel yourself putting off anything without reason say these three words out loud: “Do it now!”

Dominate the Situation

As a leader in circumstances where you must take charge, you must dominate the situation, or it will dominate you. By this, I mean that you must take positive actions to gain control. You must continue to initiate actions to maintain control. If you fail to do this, you will spend your time and energy continually responding to the actions of others, or to crises of your environment. We call this “firefighting.” And firefighting will steal all of your time, leaving no time for you to take charge with new initiatives. There are two reasons for this and they aren’t complicated. In any take charge situation, there is a desperate need for leadership. If you do not take the initiative, someone must fill the leadership vacuum. Someone else will attempt to take charge. You may be the assigned leader. This other person may not be as experienced, as qualified, or as trained as you. It makes no difference. If you fail to act at once and take the initiative, someone else will attempt to fill the leadership role and you will have to fight to regain it. The second reason why you must immediately dominate the situation has to do with the environment. If you fail to take the initiate, the environment tends to build up on you. First, you have one problem. Now you have two problems. Now you have yet another. Pretty soon the situation becomes unmanageable.


To Dominate The Situation, Take The Initiative

To dominate any take charge situation, all that is required is that you take the initiative. Another words, you let others or your environment play catch-up to your actions rather than visa versa. When Montgomery took charge of the Eighth Army, his predecessor anticipated a further withdrawal in response to Rommel’s actions. Montgomery turned the situation around by refusing to withdraw and immediately planning for an attack. Imagine, after one day he went to bed satisfied that he was on the “way to success!” Other historical commanders and leaders also went to bed happily knowing that they had taken the initiative.

Hannibal, the great Carthagenian general was attacked by a force more than three times his size in 216 B.C. The Roman general Varro had more than 72,000 men under his command. Hannibal had only 22,000. Hannibal’s generals advised an immediate retreat. Instead, Hannibal took the initiative. He designed a plan that encouraged Varro to attack Hannibal’s weak center while ignoring his two strong wings.  After Hannibal’s center had been pushed back, the Romans were so bunched together because of the strong Carthegenian wings that they could not wield their swords fully. At this moment Hannibal ordered his two wings to close behind the Romans like gates. His cavalry completed the destruction. It developed into the most decisive battle in the history of warfare. More than 60,000 Romans were left dead on the field of battle. Note that you can take the initiative and dominate the situation even if you initially don’t have it and the odds are against you. Much of taking the initiative has to do with your own perception of the situation.

Winston Churchill reported the following incident about Montgomery in his book The Hinge of Fate. Montgomery was on his way to the airport to leave England to take command of the Eighth Army. He was accompanied by General Ismay who was head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Remember that until Montgomery came on the scene, Rommel was unbeaten.

“Montgomery spoke of the trials and hazards of a soldier’s career. He gave his whole life to his profession, and lived long years of study and self-restraint. Presently fortune smiled, there came a gleam of success, he gained advancement, opportunity presented itself, he had a great command. He won a victory, he became world-famous, his name was on every lip. Then the luck changed. at one stroke all his life’s work flashed away, perhaps through no fault of his own, and he was flung into the endless catalogue of military failures.

‘But,’ expostulated Ismay, ‘you ought not to take it so badly as all that. A very fine Army is gathering in the Middle East. It may well be that you are not going to disaster.’

‘What!’ cried Montgomery, sitting up in the car. ‘What do you mean? I was talking about Rommel!'”

In his book, Montgomery said, “The good military leader will dominate the events which surround him; once he lets events get the better of him he will lose the confidence of his men, and when that happens he ceases to be of value as a leader.”[14]


Matsushita Takes Charge

Maybe you never heard of Konosuke Matsushita. If not, it’s time you did. After World War II, Matsushita was one of the central figures in the Japanese economic miracle. The year Matsushita died, the revenues of his company, Matsushita Electric were $42 billion. That exceeded the sales of Bethlehem Steel, Colgate-Pamolive, Gillette, Goodrich, Kellogg, Olivetti, Scott Paper, and Whirlpool combined! On one occasion, one of Matsushita’s divisions was losing money. Matsushita was immediately on the scene. As reported by Harvard Professor John Kotter, this is how the conversation went:

“I could understand if sales were zero and the deficit was in personnel costs,” Matsushita yelled, “but you’ve got sales of one hundred billion yen and are nine billion in the red. Responsibility for running this mess lies with you and the executives under you.  The head office must also take responsibility because they recently lent you that twenty billion yen. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk to them about getting it back.”

“But Mr. Matsushita, that would mean disaster for us! It’s five days to payday. At the end of the month we will owe money for materials and parts. If you take that twenty billion yen back now, we won’t be able to pay for them.”

“That’s right, but I’m not going to lend you any money if you and your colleagues are going to run an operation like this. I’m pulling your loan tomorrow.”

“But then we’ll go bankrupt!”

“You’ve got four thousand superb employees working here. Talk it over with them, get their ideas, and come up with a reconstruction plan that will work. If you can get a plan like that together, I’ll write a letter of recommendation to Sumitomo Bank for you. With that letter, they’re sure to give you a twenty billion yen loan using the land, buildings, and equipment here as collateral. Now, get to work!”[15]

Sometimes a leader must dispense strong medicine in a take charge situation. To be successful, you must dominate the situation. Maybe that’s what Ford, GM, and Chrysler should have done before asking the U.S. Congress for money!


Lead By Example

A very old leadership maxim states that you should be willing to do everything you ask those you lead to do. However, in a take charge situation, it goes above a willingness. At times, you must actually do everything you ask those who follow you to do. Colonel Jack Broughton was the Chief of Operations of an F-105 wing during the Vietnam War. The F-105 had a difficult mission. They attacked North Vietnam and downtown Hanoi. It was the most heavily defended target area in the world. It was protected not only by thousands of ZPU, 23mm, 37mm, 57mm, 85mm, and 100mm anti-aircraft artillery, but also by numerous batteries of surface to air missiles (SAMs). Of course, there were also MIG fighters.

For political reasons, there were more restraints placed on American flyers in the Vietnam conflict than any war in which Air Forces were involved. Certain military and political targets were strictly off limits. In some cases, the enemy was warned prior to an attack. When fired on, there were restrictions on returning the fire if it was coming from civilian structures. If an aircraft was battle damaged and had to jettison it’s load of bombs in order to get back, the “rules of engagement” limited the site of these jettisoned to non-populated areas. Aircrew had been lost trying to obey these rules and loss rates were high.

A senior air commander normally doesn’t fly all the combat missions that his crews flew. He has additional responsibilities that put demands on his time. But Jack Broughton flew all the tough ones. “It is important that you know the people you fly with and that you know what they are doing. This does not come from sitting in an air-conditioned office and clucking sternly over unimportant details. It comes from getting hot and sweaty and from getting your fanny shot at. There is no way to shake out people and procedures except by being a part of them. You only learn part of the game when you fly the easy ones; you have to take at least your share of the tough ones. The troops watched that schedule pretty closely. They knew who was leading for effect and who was for real, and they responded accordingly.”[16]

Another air commander who led by personal example in a take charge situation was Jimmy Doolittle. As a lieutenant colonel, Doolittle led the first bombing raid of Japan early in World War. Then they promoted him to general and sent him to Europe. One of the airplanes his airmen was given to fly was the B-26 “Marauder.” There had been many problems with the B-26. So many were lost while in training in Florida that the airmen had a saying, “one a day in Tampa Bay.” The airplane was known as a “killer”. . . of our own aircrew. In combat, there was a reluctance to use the aircraft to its full potential. General Doolittle was faced with a take charge situation. He visited one his B-26 groups and listened sympathetically to his pilots’ complaints about the airplane. He then asked if he could fly one. He put it through all the normal maneuvers. Suddenly he “feathered” one of the props. Since the B-26 only had two engines, this means that he was now flying the airplane on only one engine. He landed the airplane on one engine, and than took off again. Still flying with only one engine he repeated all the maneuvers he had done previously. Finally he landed.

“Well,” he told his pilots, “it isn’t the best airplane that America can build, but I think it can do the job.” The B-26 went on to rack up a tremendous operational record in combat during World War II.[17] General Doolittle went on to become the first and only Reserve Officer promoted to the rank of four star general.

This Coast Guardsman Led By Example

Let me tell you about a leader and hero by the name of, Douglas Munro. Douglas Munro was Signalman First Class in the Coast Guard. On September 27th, 1942, Signalman Munro was a Petty Officer in charge of 24 Higgins boats, a type of craft used for landing vehicles and personnel. Munro’s boats were engaged in evacuating a battalion of Marines trapped by a superior number of enemy forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal. Under constant fire from enemy machineguns, Signalman Munro led five of his landing craft towards the shore. The fire was so intense that he knew they would be unable to evacuate the Marines. So he positioned his small craft, with its two guns, as a shield between the beachhead and the enemy. Naturally, he drew most of the fire in this position. His boat was hit repeatedly. But through his actions, they got the trapped Marines off the island. He saved the lives of many who would otherwise have perished. With the task nearly completed, this brave hero was killed by enemy fire. He was post humorously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.[18]Few leaders in business or civilian life need to put their lives at risk or to sacrifice themselves for others as did Douglas Munro. But we can be inspired by his act and recognize that leaders in all fields, if they really are leaders, must lead by example, especially when taking charge in crisis situations.

Parachute General James Gavin jumped with his division on the “D-Day” invasion of Normandy. Young Colonel George S. Patton led his tanks on foot against the enemy during World War I. As a Brigadier General in the same war, MacArthur went forward with the first line of his men in the attack. Major General Moshe Dayan of the Israeli Army came under direct fire while up front in an attack during the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and his jeep driver was killed. Dayan was Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army at the time. All of these men were in take charge situations. It was time to lead by personal example, and they did.


Hire And Fire

In a take charge situation, you don’t have time to fool around. You must get rid of those individuals that are performing poorly, and you have to replace these people with people who can do the job. For most people, firing is not an easy thing to do. Those you must discharge may have worked at a job for sometime. They may or may not have done their best. Either way, firing can mean a loss of money, prestige, security, and sense of self worth. Still, if you are going to be true to yourself and to your organization as a leader, you have no choice. Remember, we’re not talking about ordinary day-to-day management. We’re speaking about take charge situations. If your organization has a worthwhile purpose and mission, it must come first under these circumstances. This is easier to see in warfare, where the acts of people spell the difference between life and death, victory and defeat. It is more difficult to understand in peacetime situations.

What harm it is if you keep people on board who are not performing up to standard? First, these individuals are probably incapable of doing any better than they already have. Otherwise, the take charge situation wouldn’t exist. Also, it is essential to get people in important positions who can do the job as you want it done. You can’t do this with incumbents occupying the key positions. Finally, you can’t motivate others to go all out in a crisis when you demonstrate that you are willing to except less than the very best from others.

Now I want to make certain that you understand fully what I am saying. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean that you fire everyone in sight that you think you can replace with someone better. That’s not ethical. It demonstrates poor leadership. There may well be situations that are not crises when for various reasons, you should tolerate people in your organization who are not performing to your standards. An individual who is no longer capable of turning in top performance, but who has done a good job in the past may be one example. Also, if possible you should attempt to save a person from being fired first. You do this through counseling and the coaching techniques we’ve discussed earlier.

But in a take charge situation, don’t waste time.


Guideline For Firing

If firing needs to be done, do it at once. Here are some guidelines:

  • Don’t mess around with half way measures or second chances. Make the decision to fire, and do so at once.
  • Don’t delegate a firing. Do it yourself.
  • Don’t fire in public. Call the person into your office and do it privately.
  • Be forthright and tell the person why he or she is being fired.
  • Let the person know that you’re not saying a person is no good at any job, only that they haven’t met your standards at this job.
  • Depending on who is being fired, and at what level, get additional help before you act, if required. That is, you may want to talk to your legal people, public relations, the human resources department, an outplacement firm, a psychologist. Or no one. Only you can decide if you need additional help.

Hiring Is Just As Important In A Take Charge Situation

When Lee Iacocca turned the Chrysler Corporation around, it was the biggest most amazing turn-around situation in this century. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. But Iacocca went ahead anyway. The U.S. government guaranteed a needed loan. That helped . . . a lot. However, if you think it was just the government guarantee on a loan that made things come out, you would be dead wrong. Iacocca did it primarily with people. Like General George C. Marshall, he tracked the careers of several hundred executives in his organization. These were kept in a special notebook. So important was this notebook, that he obtained special permission from William Ford, President of the Ford Motor Company to take the notebook with him.

Many of the new executives he brought to Chrysler came from this notebook. According to Iacocca, “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits. People come first. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”[19]This should tell you clearly that you should be directly involved with hiring executives that will work with you. If you have a notebook of executives yourself, congratulations. Most leaders aren’t so well prepared. But don’t work if you do not. You can learn a lot through the interview process if you do it right. The problem with most leaders in putting their team together in a take charge situation is that they don’t prepare for the interview at all. They ask one or two questions, and if everything seems okay they offer the job. I mean after all, this is a take charge situation, right? It may be a take charge situation, but this is the wrong approach to take. You see, in a take charge situation you want to get rid of the deadwood instantly. But you it is possible to replace poor performers with worse performers, or individuals just not suited to the job you want them to do.

General Perry M. Smith put together a wonderful checklist to help you to hire the right person for the right job…to get a feel for the individual and for the chemistry between you and your prospective subordinate. Here are the questions that he recommend that you ask:

  • Do you want the job? Why?
  • What talents, qualities and strengths would you bring to this job?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • How long would you like to hold this job?
  • What is your leadership/management style?
  • If I asked a subordinate of yours to describe you and          your leadership style, what would be the response?
  • If you are not selected, whom would you recommend for this job?
  • What are your long-term personal goals?
  • Do you expect to be promoted soon?
  • Are there any “skeletons in your closet?”
  • Whom in your present organization do you admire the most and why?
  • What is the standard of integrity in your present organization?
  • Are you considering any other positions?
  • If I select you for this job, would you take it as your first choice over other positions you are considering?
  • Are you approaching a retirement decision soon?
  • How many people have you led or supervised in your career?
  • Have you ever fired anyone? Have you ever been fired?
  • What experience do you have with

–        operations?

–        planning?

–        finance?

–        marketing?

–        engineering?

–        research and development?

–        manpower and personnel?

–        computer systems?

  • Have you had any setbacks in your career?

–               if so, what were the most significant lessons learned from      the setbacks?

–        what organizational setbacks have you observed at first hand?

  • What is the toughest problem you have ever faced in your professional career? How have you handed it?
  • What questions have I failed to ask you?
  • What questions do you have for me?[20]


Now I’m not saying that you must ask all of these questions during the hiring interview. You should ask only those that you consider relevant to the situation. And of course, you should feel free to add some of your own questions that you consider appropriate. The point is, take the time when hiring in a take charge situation to put together the best possible team that you can.

Seven Steps To Taking Charge In A Crisis Situation

1.   Establish your objective at once. You can’t lead anyone anywhere until you know where you want to go.

2.   Communicate what you want done in a way likely to get the attention of those you lead.

3.   Act boldly. This is not time to be cautious. This is the time to take risks.

4.   Be decisive. Don’t put off making decisions.

5.   Dominate the situation by taking the initiative. If you don’t, the situation will dominate you.

6.   Lead by example. Make your motto “follow me,” and live by it.

7.   Get rid of people that can’t do the job and hire people that can. Do a through job of interviewing to minimize the risk of a bad choice.


[1] Montgomery of Alamein, The Memoirs of Field-Marshall Montgomery (The World Publishing Company: New York, 1958) p.94.

[2] Ibid. p.93.

[3] Ibid. p.75.

[4] Porter B. Williamson, Patton’s Principles (Simon and Schuster: New York, 1979) p. 31.

[5] George S. Patton, War As I Knew It (Pyramid Books: New York, 1966) p. 309.

[6] AFM 35-15, Air Force Leadership (Department of the Air Force: Washington, D.C., 1948) p. 33.

[7] James M. Gavin, On To Berlin (The Viking Press: New York, 1978) p.18.

[8] Ibid. p.32.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang, Pour Your Heart In To It (New York: Hyperion, 1997) p.235.

[11] Ibid. pp. 230-237.

[12] Op. Cit. George S. Patton p. 308.

[13] AFM 35-15 Air Force Leadership, Op. Cit. p. 30.

[14] Bernard L. Montgomery, Op. Cit. p. 75.

[15] John P. Kotter, Matsushita on Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 1997) p.10

[16] Jack Broughton, Thud Ridge (J.B. Lippincott Company: New York, 1969). p. 30.

[17] AFM 35-15, Air Force Leadership Op. Cit. p. 33.

[18] U.S. Army Center of Military History, Full-text Listings of Medal of Honor Citations, Web Site, July 23, 199.

[19] Lee Iacocca, Iacocca (Bantam Books: New York, 1984) p. 167.

[20] Perry M. Smith, Taking Charge (Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing Group, Inc., 1993) pp. 177-178.


1. The Stuff of Heroes: Leading with Integrity and Honor

The eight universal laws are strategic. From them come hundreds of tactics and techniques that leaders must use in all fields including the eight essential influence tactics.. 

Combat leadership is extremely effective despite the terrible environment in which it is practiced. Under such conditions, old motivators such as pay, vacations, and job security aren’t much good. Yet, combat leaders help others reach very difficult goals and complete very arduous tasks. They build organizations that get things done ethically, honestly, and for the most part humanely, in many cases without giving direct orders.

 If business leaders could motivate their employees to perform at only a small percentage of the productivity achieved by combat leaders, what couldn’t their organizations accomplish? To develop this system, Dr. Cohen surveyed more than 200 general and flag officers who have since become corporate executives. This is our “flag-ship” seminar and the concepts and techniques taught have been recommended by U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, Admiral and former Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt, former Chief Staff of the Air Force Ronald Fogleman and many CEOs of major organizations.

Attendees learn how to put the eight universal laws and the eight essential influence tactics into practice plus a lot more.

2. A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher

Dr. Bill Cohen studied under Peter Drucker from 1975-79 and became the first graduate of his executive graduate program. What Drucker taught him literally changed his life. In a few years he was recommissioned in the Air Force and rose to become a major general. He became a full professor, a university president, and authored 53 books published in 18 languages. He maintained a nearly lifelong friendship with the master. In this seminar/workshop Cohen shares many of Drucker’s teachings that never made it into his countless books and articles – ideas that were offered to his students in classroom or informal settings. Cohen expands on Drucker’s lessons with personal anecdotes and shows how Drucker’s ideas can be applied to real-world challenges that managers face today.

You will learn.

  • How to build your self-confidence step by step Drucker’s way
  • How to approach problems with your ignorance; not your experience
  • The organization that Drucker most admired
  • Why and how you must develop expertise outside of management
  • How to solve problems by approaching them with your ignorance
  • How to create the future
  • How to avoid fear of failure and loss of job
  • Many other concepts Drucker taught in the classroom and how to apply them


For more information, contact me directly by e-mail at or telephone (626) 794-5998. Yes we do give international seminars — The U.S. country code is 01.



You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.

                                            – Anthony Robbins