Published by:

  • Leadership – Speeches – Workshops
  • Personal Training – Consulting
  • Leadership – Marketing – Strategy

Vol. 6 No. 5
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

Vol. 6, No. 5

Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

© 2008 William A. Cohen, PhD

The Table of Contents for this Month’s Edition of the Journal of Leadership Applications

News for Leaders: Below

This Month’s Topic: KNOW YOUR STUFF

This Month’s Thought for Leaders: After KNOW YOUR STUFF

Leadership Lessons from Last Month’s Book:  Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This Month’s Free Downloadable Book:  How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

News for Leaders

Want to “Attend” Stanford University — Free?  Stanford University is now offering free seminars online.  You can get full information and the courses available for this spring see

Free Leadership Video. An interesting video on leadership and strategy from overseas is at

Special Leadership Quotes. For a list of free leadership quotes .

New Full Day Peter Drucker Seminars Now Available. The following new full-day seminars based on my being Peter Drucker’s first executive PhD student, personal discussions with him, and my research of his writings are now available. These are The Lost Lessons of Peter F. Drucker, Drucker on Marketing, and Drucker on Leadership. For a complete description go to  SPEECHES, SEMINARS, AND WORKSHOPS  or 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.

Seminar Discounts to U.S. Military, Police, Fire Fighters and other U.S. Government. We offer special discounts on seminars to all U.S. government organizations. In the past we have given these to the FBI, Police, Post Office Department, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, the Reserves and others. For full information contact me directly by e-mail at or telephone (626) 794-5998. Like Peter Drucker, I do not employ a secretary, so if I’m not in, leave a message.

Public Seminars. I am frequently asked about attending one of my public seminars. Unfortunately, these opportunities are rare. Most of my seminars, etc. are private — either for corporations, trade associations, groups from government, etc. However, public seminars do occur on occasion. When I do, I’ll keep you informed in this journal as I did last month for Rosario University in Bogotá, Colombia.

Book Reviews of A Class with Drucker.  As promised I am posting all book reviews available — good, bad, and indifferent — as received. If you see one not posted, please send it and I will include it. Just click Drucker Book Reviews.


by William A. Cohen, PhD

One of the most celebrated cases of American battle heroism in this century is that of Sergeant York during World War I. Many do not realize just how much it illustrates the important of sheer competence over rank or position.

                Corporal Alvin C. York was a soldier in Company G, 328th Regiment, 82nd Division of the U.S. Army. No one noticed anything particularly unusual about him when he was drafted into the Army. That is, until he filed to avoid military service as a conscientious objector. However, the paperwork took some time, and he was assigned to a unit and began training as an infantryman. With considerable effort, his new company commander convinced him that his country needed him and to remain in the Army. York withdrew his request to avoid service and went overseas to France with his unit.

                There was one other item of note in his background. It made him very attractive as a combat infantryman. It may also help to explain why his company commander tried so hard to keep him in the Army. York was an expert shot. He learned to shoot in the backwoods of Tennessee and he had been a champion marksman there before the war. As a rifleman, he really knew his stuff. His company commander felt York’s knowledge and skill in marksmanship would be very handy to have on the battlefield. As it turned out, this became more important in France than anyone could have imagined.

                By October 18th, 1918, York was a corporal. One day he was sent on a patrol in the Argonne Forest with sixteen other men under the command of a sergeant. The patrol managed to surprise a German headquarters and took several prisoners. As the patrol moved on, they stumbled on a hidden nest of enemy machine-guns and were themselves surprised. The machine-guns opened fire with deadly effectiveness. Only York and seven privates survived the first volley. Corporal York was suddenly in command of seven frightened subordinates facing an entire machine-gun battalion. That is, several hundred soldiers armed with machineguns firing several hundred rounds a minute. This was World War I. York hadn’t been to leadership school. He hadn’t graduated from a non-commissioned officer academy. He was a young corporal suddenly thrust into the role of leader of others in a very perilous situation.

                The seven privates wanted to surrender. York asked them to wait while he “tried something.” He told them to keep under cover and guard their prisoners. York began to look for a position from which to fire at the Germans. You can imagine what must have gone through the minds of those young privates. “Was York going to take on a German machine-gun battalion by himself? York was armed only with a bolt action rifle. For every shot he had to unlock the previous shell, and push the bolt forward again. At best he could probably get off eight or nine rounds of aimed fired in a minute while the machineguns could collectively fire thousands of rounds at him in the same time period. What chance did he have? What chance did they have? York had only one thing going for him. These privates knew that York was an expert marksman. They knew that in this respect, he absolutely knew his stuff.

                Corporal York found a good spot from which to shoot. He could see the enemy clearly, but they could not see him. He fired several shots and then moved to a new position. He kept repeating the process. By the time a machine-gun would begin to fire at him, York had already moved. Meanwhile, he was able to get a couple of shots off at the Germans manning the guns. He rarely missed. The enemy felt helpless against his relentless sniping, as man after man fell to his marksmanship. They thought they must be facing many Americans.

                The Germans sent a squad of eight armed infantrymen to reconnoiter. York had a clear view of them as they approached. He fired and worked the rifle’s bolt as rapidly as he could. Before they could do anything, he shot all eight. Then York moved again to another position where he could start shooting at the machine-gun crews again.

                More enemy soldiers began to fall to York’s bullets. The German commander seemingly could do nothing. He didn’t know that the deadly fire came from only one man. Thinking he must be surrounded by a much larger force, he offered to surrender. With only the seven privates helping him by guarding the prisoners they had captured earlier, York captured another 132 prisoners, including three officers.

                The Supreme Allied Commander, the French Marshall Ferdinand Foch had been at war for four years. He was aware of the daily actions of millions of men in battle. He saw hundreds of situations where courageous leaders performed heroic deeds under fire. Yet, Foch called York’s feat the greatest individual action of the war. General Pershing, the overall American commander, immediately promoted York to Sergeant and recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honor. This is America’s highest decoration for valor, and Sergeant York received it shortly thereafter.

                Now let’s look at the facts of York’s exploit again from a leadership perspective. York was a very brave man, and a highly skilled marksman. However, had York not been able to persuade his men not to surrender, it is unlikely that he would have been able to accomplish anything. Unguarded, their former prisoners would have soon informed the German commander that only one man opposed his battalion. Do you think that commander would have surrendered to York then? He and his men would have been encouraged to attack in overwhelming numbers. York’s privates obeyed his plea not to surrender even though they faced overwhelming odds only because knew that York was such an extraordinary marksman. York may have been their leader for only a few moments, but they knew that in this respect, this leader knew his stuff.

                My West Point classmate, Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Schwartz fought and led in Vietnam in two combat tours as an infantry officer. Bill says, “I am most proud of the fact that no one lost his life under my command because I made a mistake. Job competence is crucial because leaders lacking it waste lives and frequently still fail to accomplish the mission.”[1]


There is No Substitute for Knowing Your Stuff Because There is No Substitute for Victory

During World War II, the U.S. Army conducted a study to find out what soldiers thought about their leaders. It was the first time any army had ever done this. The best and the brightest did this research, including professors from Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. They surveyed tens of thousands of soldiers and asked: “What are the most important factors associated with good leadership?” The most frequent answer these researchers received was: “That the leader know his stuff.”[2]

                Why is it important that the leader know his stuff? Because, without knowing your stuff you can’t be successful. And every body wants to be in an organization that is successful and is winning. Perhaps General of the Army Douglas MacArthur said it best: “ . . . There is no substitute for victory.”

                Also during World War II, a German leader said the same thing. In 1943, Captain Wolfgang Luth spoke to a graduating class of naval cadets. This young officer was one of the most successful submarine commanders in the entire German Navy.

                During this war, 39,000 officers and men served in Germany’s U-boat force. Only 7,000 survived. If you saw the award-winning movie Das Boot, you know under what difficult conditions these men, and those of our own submarine force, lived and fought. Just surviving duty in a German U-boat patrol was a severe challenge for any leader. Yet, beyond mere survival, during three years of war Luth led 12 patrols and sank close to 250,000 gross tons of shipping. He was 600 days at sea in his submarine during this period during which he set a record for 203 days at sea on one patrol. Not surprisingly, this amazing submarine captain held Germany’s highest decorations for valor.

                Luth’s topic for these future naval officers was leadership on a U-boat. Captain Luth covered many areas in his lecture . . . the dos and don’ts . . . the life of the submariner . . . discipline. At times he indicated that the captain’s actions were matters of judgment . . . that a different commander might have acted differently and still been successful. On one aspect of leadership, however; he said there was only one right answer.

                 “Crews will always prefer the successful commander, even though he may be a fathead, to the one who is consideration itself, but sinks no ships,” he stated.[3] Like the conclusion from the U.S. Army study, Captain Luth found one characteristic that a leader had to have. A leader had to know his stuff.

                British Field Marshall Montgomery, one of the leading English generals during World War II, and the man who defeated the famous German General Erwin Rommel in North Africa and won for himself the title of “Montgomery of Alamein,” says the same. “The morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war and the best way to achieve a high morale in war-time is by success in battle. The good general is the one who wins his battles with the fewest possible casualties; but morale will remain high even after considerable casualties, provided the battle has been won and the men know it was not wastefully conducted . . . “[4]


Knowing Your Stuff is as Important in Business as in Battle

You’d think that knowing your stuff would be obvious in either military or civilian life. Yet, it is unfortunately true that some leaders don’t “know their stuff” to the extent that they should. This is because their emphasis is less on becoming an expert and “learning one’s trade,” than on getting ahead. This leads to a focus on office politics rather than office expertise. Moreover, a number of management books fall into this same trap in advising their readers. They fail to emphasize that a leader becomes the real leader of his organization when those that follow recognize that the leader knows what to do when he or she gets ahead, not because the leader knows what to do to get ahead.

                Followers don’t follow others because leaders are good at office politics. They follow leaders because they are good at what they do. There is no substitute for a leader investing his or her time into becoming an expert. As an article in Fortune proclaimed: “Forget about fighting over titles and turf – it’s what you know (and how you use it) that really counts.”[5]

                In 1994, Gordon M. Bethune took over as CEO of an ailing Continental Airlines that had twice filed for bankruptcy. In a little over a year, he built a $650 million cash reserve and took Continental’s last place on-time takeoff performance to number two of all airlines. Not bad for a leader that spent twenty years as an enlisted man in the Navy, and had to go to night school to graduate from high school. However, Bethune knows his stuff and how to use it. He attended five colleges and finally got his bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University in 1982. He was not a Navy pilot, but he learned aircraft mechanics in the service. Today, he is both a licensed pilot and mechanic. In fact he is licensed to fly the Boeing 757 and 767 and sometimes takes delivery of the company’s jet aircraft from Seattle and flies them to Houston. No wonder they say that Bethune has brought a new flavor to employee relations.[6] He really knows his stuff, and as Fortune proclaimed, “it does count.”

                Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas H. McMullen, who flew in combat in both Korea and Vietnam, and went on to direct the development of important weapons systems such as the A-10 says, “You’ve got to understand your organization and your people, both strengths and weaknesses. Then you’ve got to understand the mission, both short and long term.” [7]

                When you know your stuff and how to use it, it constitutes a unique power. Interestingly, this type of power has received attention by academic researchers. They confirm that it is one of the major sources of a leader’s authority and call it “expert power.” Such a power can work miracles. It can even make you the richest man in the world.


How Bill Gates Became the Richest Man in the World

Bill Gates founded the Microsoft Corporation and is the Chairman of the Board and until 2006, CEO. Microsoft had over $ 50 billion in 2007 (that’s billion with a “b”) dollars. It employs more than 78,000 people in 105 countries. Gates is probably the richest man in the world. Amazingly, he achieved much of his success while he was still in his 20’s. He became a billionaire when he was only 31.

                What do think? Was he just there at the right time and right place? Was Gates just lucky? Did people lend him money, and others of ability acknowledge him as leader and help to build his giant corporation because of his academic education? Because of his Hollywood-handsome looks? His influential parents? Hardly. Bill Gates went to Harvard, but he dropped out after only two years. He wears glasses. Some say he looks almost nerdish. His father was a Seattle, Washington attorney, and his mother a school teacher.

                If you look at Gates’ career, you can see that he took the time to learn his stuff. His secret was not office politics, but the expert power he acquired. Gates started learning how to program computers when he was 13. By the time he entered high school, he knew enough to lead a group of computer programmers who computerized his school’s payroll system. Then, while still a teenager, he started a company that sold traffic-counting systems to local governments. When he entered Harvard, he was already an acknowledged computer expert. He spent his freshman year at Harvard preparing the language for the world’s first microcomputer. His second year was more of the same. Then he decided to drop out so he could spend full time developing computer software. Not long after that, he founded the Microsoft Corporation. Others followed Gates because in this new field of computer programming, Gates was top gun. They didn’t care how old he was. They didn’t care if he wasn’t 6’5” or who his parents were or were not, or whether or not he had a college degree. Gates knew his stuff.

                Almost every day business and daily newspapers and magazines carry news of Gates’ latest exploits. He makes news today not because he may be the world’s richest man, but because he is successful and people still follow him because he still knows his stuff. Said Edward Rogers, head of Canada’s largest cable system on Gates’ recent intrusion into the cable business, “We’re dealing with the smartest man in America.[8]


A Leader Who Was Never in Combat Led the Largest Invasion in History

It is what you know and can do that is important, not anything else. It isn’t wealth, connections, or looks, whether in the military or in civilian life. You will see this important point crop up again and again.

                 In the military, combat is considered one of the important way-stations for higher command. They call it “getting your ticket punched.” After all, isn’t fighting what the military is all about? Combat is important as a credential for military leadership. Yet, depending on the job, it may represent only a small part of knowing your stuff.

                General Dwight Eisenhower never served in combat. He graduated from West Point in 1915, and he volunteered repeatedly for combat duty during World War I. However, his superiors considered him too valuable in his stateside job. Despite his lack of combat experience, he rose to become one of only a handful of U.S. officers ever to wear the five star insignia of General of the Army, Admiral of the Fleet, or General of the Air Force.              Moreover, he led the largest invasion in the history of the world. He commanded hundreds of thousands of men who were in battle. Not only were they combat troops from all services of the U.S. armed forces, but from other armed forces as well. Since Eisenhower had no combat experience, how was this possible? Doesn’t this violate knowing your stuff?

                Eisenhower’s secret was that he dedicated his life to learning his profession. He became an expert. He may have not have had combat experience, but he did know his stuff.  He had that expert power academicians talk about. Before World War II, he was a relatively junior officer. Yet, he was considered one of the Army’s best planners. He graduated only in the middle of his West Point class, but he graduated number one from the Army’s Command and Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He volunteered for and graduated from the Army Industrial College in Washington, D.C. During the growing U.S. Army’s first large scale maneuvers in Louisiana in 1941, Eisenhower played a prominent part and did extremely well. Then, he was selected to lead the first American offensive in the European Theater during World War II. These were the North African landings called “Operation Torch” in November 1942. Again, he was successful.  He was an outstanding leader of the largest invasion force in history because,  quite simply, he “knew his stuff.” The other “stuff” he knew was more important than the combat experience he lacked. Building on the same principle, Eisenhower became a successful president of Columbia University. Later yet, he became a very competent president of the U.S. even though he had not been a politician.


The Two Important Components of Expert Power

The leadership experiences of tens of thousands of combat leaders show that there are two important components to expert power. These are:

  • Technical expertise
  • Leadership expertise

                As a leader, you must develop expertise in both components. General Sir John Hackett, experienced as a battlefield commander, as well as principal of Kings College, London, and author of the international best seller, The Third World War says: “. . . the leader, besides being a competent manager, must be known to possess a high degree of competence in some specific skill or skills closely relevant to the discharge of the organization’s primary task.”[9]


A Teenager Becomes a Fighter Ace and a Colonel

Some say we can’t learn much from the young, but that simply isn’t so. A 19-year American wanted to join the Air Corps and become a pilot back in 1940. This was shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. Unfortunately, Chesley “Pete” Peterson could not pass the Army’s eye exam. One day he learned that the British were looking for volunteers for the Royal Air Force. England was already in the war, and was short of pilots. The RAF decided to form a squadron made up entirely of Americans. Because they needed pilots badly, the visual standards for pilots weren’t as high as in the U.S.

Peterson took the flight physical for the RAF and passed. They sent him to Canada for pilot training. Before long he was a fighter pilot in one of the two American Eagle Squadrons flying Spitfires against the best pilots in the German Luftwaffe. What happened afterward shows how having technical expertise and leadership expertise are both important.

Peterson’s squadron was in combat over England almost every day. Needless to say, there was considerable danger. Losses were high. When not actually flying, many pilots lived pretty wild lives on the ground. Peterson could party with the best of them. But, during periods of combat operations, he didn’t waste his time partying. Instead, he took the time to become an expert fighter pilot. He read everything he could about air combat and sought out other pilots with whom he talked at great length.

He also went through a lengthy ritual every night. Before going to sleep, he went over every minute of the fights he had with enemy during the day. He reviewed what went right and what went wrong. He thought about what he had done that worked, and what he had done that had not worked. He analyzed his mistakes and considered how he could avoid them in the future. He planned what he would do differently the next day. Before long he shot down his first enemy aircraft. And then, another. And then another after that. It wasn’t long before he had shot down five enemy aircraft. This gave him the designation “ace.” Peterson was now an expert fighter pilot. Would it surprise you to learn that though he was one of the youngest pilots in his squadron, when they needed a new squadron commander, they chose Peterson?

Squadron Leader Peterson continued to follow his plan in a search for continued excellence. This time he worked at becoming an expert as a squadron commander.  He followed the same routine, so he learned fast. When the Royal Air Force needed a new Wing Commander, again they selected Pete Peterson. He stuck with his plan. When they needed a Group Commander . . . well, you can guess the rest.

By 1943, the U.S. was very much in the war. Now it was the U.S. which needed experienced pilots. They ask Peterson, along with other Americans serving in the Royal Air Force, to transfer to the U.S. Army Air Force. They gave Peterson the rank equivalent to the rank he held in the RAF. So,  Peterson became a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force at the age of 23. He was the youngest colonel in our air force. Peterson stayed in the United States Air Force after World War II. Twenty years later, Pete Peterson was promoted to general. He was still only in his early forties. I’m certain that much of Peterson’s success had to do with the fact that he always took the time to learn his stuff. I don’t know whether Peterson knew anything about office politics. I rather think he did not.

John Hummer, who was is a Corporate Director with the Lockheed Martin Corporation, commanded in nuclear attack submarines, and later a shore training establishment in the Navy. He retired from the Navy as a Captain. Says Captain Hummer : “You’ve got to know your job, including the barriers to success and know your people. If you never stop thinking about what your people need to succeed, you can motivate them to success.”[10]


How General Peterson Helped To Promote Me To Major At Age 27

I like to tell Peterson’s story, because it impacted my own career in a very positive way. The Air Force no longer had very young colonels. As a matter of fact, it took eleven years of service just to be promoted to the rank of major, which for those unfamiliar with the military, is two ranks junior to colonel or Navy captain. But, one day I found a book about the RAF Eagle Squadrons. That’s what they called the squadrons of Americans who went to fight for England, and these squadrons still exist in our Air Force today, flying the F-15 fighter in the 4th Fighter Wing in the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command.

Until I read about General Peterson and how he got to be a leader, I was about average. I led no one. I was a lieutenant with four years service as the navigator of a B-52 in the 26th Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Wing, flying out of Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. I had recently been teamed up with a senior navigator who was a lieutenant colonel by the name of John Porter. I noted how he taught me navigation in a book[11] But Lieutenant Colonel Porter could only do so much. I decided to try and implement Peterson’s methods. “What do I have to lose?” I thought.

I read everything I could about navigation. I became an expert. I started to write articles on navigation. I became the leader of a group of navigators who wanted to try out new methods. Before long, I was asked to be an instructor, and not long after that to join the senior instructor crew in the squadron. Three days after my new assignment, I was promoted to captain as part of the normal promotion cycle.

Now in those days, strategic bombers were a part of America’s nuclear retaliatory force in Strategic Air Command (SAC). Because of the importance of the mission, up to ten percent of SAC’s aircrews could hold “spot promotions.” “Spot promotions” were rank based on occupying a position or spot. My new position on the senior instructor crew carried a major’s rank because of the position. However, you had to be a captain for at least a year and a half before being considered eligible for a spot promotion as a major. I was only a captain for three days! There was a certain amount of grumbling in the squadron from captains who had the requisite year and a half, but did not occupy a position which called for a “spot major” rank.

Seven months later, I was asked to join one of the wing’s three standardization-evaluation crews. These were the folks that evaluated and gave flight checks to everyone else in the squadron. Now I had really hit the big time. Everyone but the co-pilot held a spot promotion on these crews, and these co-pilots were considered prime candidates to become aircraft commanders if they did well.

There were two other B-52 navigator’s in the wing’s standardization-evaluation division. They were both spot majors, having nine and ten years service respectively in the Air Force. I only had about five and a half years service, and still not enough time in grade as a captain to be promoted to major! Finally, some months later and three days after I became eligible, I was promoted to major. I was 27 years old.

Thank you, General Peterson! You showed me how to master the two of the components of knowing your stuff.


What Knowing Your Stuff Really Means

                To know your stuff means that you:

  • Know Your People
  • Become an Expert
  • Learn from Every Experience
  • Never Stop Learning


Unless You Do This, The Greatest Leader in the World Can’t Lea

Carol Barkalow was in the first class at West Point to accept female cadets. She entered West Point in 1976, and graduated four years later in the class of 1980. As a young lieutenant in the anti-aircraft artillery in Germany, she noticed that her new battery commander was tough, but very caring with each of his soldiers. He treated each as an individual. He even met with the counselors of those undergoing drug rehabilitation.  Neither of her two previous commanders had done this. “When I asked him about it, the captain would quote the philosophy of General Omar Bradley, ‘The greatest leader in the world could never win a campaign unless he understood the men he had to lead.’”[12]

Captain Scott O’Grady spent six agonizing days and six nights in hostile territory after his F-16 fighter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Bosnia. He says, “In a combat environment, you needed to trust people, to predict their reactions and rely on their snap judgments. But before you trust people you have to know them. You have to live and work  – and laugh – together.”[13]

More than two hundred years ago, the Marshal Comte de Saxe of France said, “There is nothing more important in war than the human heart. In a knowledge of the human heart must be sought the secrets of success and failure of armies.”[14]

General Edward C. “Shy” Meyer saw combat in Korea and Vietnam and became the youngest Chief of Staff the Army ever had. Regarding combat leadership, he says, “Competence is critical. You’ve got to learn the trade and spend considerable time studying at all levels to understand your soldiers.”[15]


You’ve Got To Know Your People As Individuals

 World-class leaders treat those they lead as individuals, not as a cog in organizational machinery. People are all different; they are not the same. This fact constitutes one of the most fascinating, yet challenging aspects of being a leader. Every different follower thinks differently and may be motivated to action by different stimuli. Psychologist Carl Jung found that faced with the exact same situation, each of us have different preferred ways of acting, decision making, or getting a job done.

Isabel Myers and her mother, Katherine C. Briggs organized Jung’s theoretical work into a conceptual framework and a psychometric questionnaire called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Based on a preference for alternatives in decision making and the answers to a battery of questions, individuals are classified into one of sixteen different personality types. Amazingly, these sixteen personality types determine much about how each individual lives, loves, and works. Meanwhile the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI has become one of the worlds most used research survey tools, with MBTI being correlated with everything from job preference to finding a mate.

However, the MBTI is not a success indicator. There are outstanding leaders and successful people in every single one of the sixteen categories. The main lesson to be learned from MBTI for any leader is that those that follow are human beings. They have different experiences in life, and have different beliefs and values. To get them to perform to their maximum potential you must know and understand these differences which motivate and affect your people.[16]


To Know Your People is To Maximize Their Productivity

I tell the following story a lot in both my seminars and books. It is a story worth telling. Jim Toth retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel and was one of my instructors at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces some years ago. While rummaging through old bookstores, he found a little 99-page book written after World War I by Captain Adolph von Schell, a German infantry officer. Von Schell was highly experienced. He had served in combat throughout World War I, first in command of an infantry platoon, and later in command of a company. He wrote the book, Battle Leadership, while attending the Advanced Class of the U.S. Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia in the years 1930-31.

               The book related von Schell’s observations on leadership from the vantage point of a junior officer in the Imperial German Army. Toth realized the collection of lessons von Schell documented were as valuable in the present as on the day they were recorded. He contacted The Marine Corps Association who agreed to reprint the book. In a preface, Major General D.M. Twomey of the Marine Corps said that the book  “. . . should be required reading for all combat leaders . . .[17]  I know that Colonel Toth’s efforts in getting the book reprinted was not wasted, because I have seen this little book at military installations around the country, and von Schell’s observations have helped me to make distinctions in leadership as well.

                Captain von Schell’s lessons on battlefield psychology show the importance of knowing and understanding your subordinates. Says von Schell, “As commanders we must know the probable reaction of the individual and the means by which we can influence this reaction.”[18] To do this, von Schell suggests estimating the psychological aspects, as well as the technical aspects of a situation.

                “A really classical example of this art of estimating a situation psychologically was shown in the year 1917 by a brigade commander. This General said, ‘Each of our three regimental commanders must be handled differently. Colonel “A” does not want an order. He wants to do everything himself, and he always does well. Colonel “B” executes every order, but he has no initiative. Colonel “C” opposes everything he is told to do and wants to do the contrary.’

                “A few days later the troops confronted a well-entrenched enemy whose position would have to be attacked. The General issued the following individual orders:

                “To Colonel “A” (who wants to do everything himself):

“‘My dear Colonel “A,” I think we will attack. Your regiment will have to carry the burden of the attack. I have, however, selected you for this reason. The boundaries of your regiment are so and so. Attack at X hour. I don’t have to tell you anything more.’

                “To Colonel “C” (who opposes everything):

                “‘We have met a very strong enemy. I am afraid we will not be able to attack with the forces at our disposal.’

                “‘Oh, General, certainly we will attack. Just give my regiment the time of attack and you will see that we are successful,’ replied Colonel “C.”

                “’Go, then, we will try it,’ said the General giving him the order for the attack, which he had prepared sometime previously.

                “To Colonel “B” (who must always have detailed orders) the attack order was merely sent with additional details.

                “All three regiments attacked splendidly.

                “The General knew his subordinates; he knew that each one was different and had to be handled differently in order to achieve results. He had estimated the psychological situation correctly. It is comparatively easy to make a correct estimate if one knows the man concerned; but even then it is often difficult, because the man doesn’t always remain the same. He is no machine; he may react one way today, another way tomorrow. Soldiers can be brave one day and afraid the next. Soldiers are not machines but human beings who must be led in war. Each one of them reacts differently at different times, and must be handled each time according to his particular reaction. To sense this and to arrive at a correct psychological solution is part of the art of leadership.”[19]

                Von Schell’s example shows us how important it is to know your people in battle. Failing to do so can have the exact opposite effect. In 1779 at the siege of Savannah during our Revolutionary War, Franco-American forces faced heavy English fire. Colonel Arthur Dillon offered his men of the LXXX Infanterie of the Franco-American force a hundred guineas for the first man to plant a flag in the British position. Not one man came forward. The colonel, grew angry, and called his men cowards. Nor would any been willing to attack had not a sergeant-major stepped forward. “If you hadn’t offered money as an incentive, every man would have been willing to go,” said the sergeant-major. The sergeant-major led, and to a man the LXXX Infanterie followed and advanced, even though they suffered heavy losses.[20]  Knowing your people is equally true in business.


You Can Become an Expert in Anything in Five Years

 Earl Nightingale, the famous motivational speaker spent a lifetime researching and interviewing highly successful leaders. These individuals were came from many different fields, from medicine to business. According to Nightingale, these successful men and women unanimously agreed that you could become an expert in just about anything in five years or less – if you made the effort. 

That is surprising information, but it certainly was true about Captain Luth, the German submarine commander, and the then Colonel Pete Peterson, the ace fighter pilot. You would have to say this applied to Bill Gates. He started learning computer programming at age 13, and by the time he was 18, he was president of a computer programming company. It is less clear regarding Eisenhower, since it was years before he had an opportunity to prove he was an expert planner. Also, it is not clear at what age young Alvin C. York began to shoot, and at what age he could be considered an expert marksman. However, I have looked into many well known authors, doctors, attorneys, entrepreneurs, and others. In almost every case, it appeared that the individual had become an acknowledged expert within that magical five year period. Although frankly, it isn’t important how long it takes you to do this. The important thing is that its doable and that you do it.


A Private Became an Expert and Later a Four-Star General

Frederick Kroesen has to be one of the most unusual generals ever to serve in the United States Army. I had the privilege of meeting him in 1989 while attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington D.C. One of the elective courses I took was in top level leadership. Six retired generals and admirals from all services came in to speak to us at different times as a part of this course.

                The format was a forty-five minute presentation by the speaker, a twenty minute break during which we were able to meet each general or admiral individually,  and a one hour session as each speaker answered our questions. Since there were only twenty to thirty students in the class,  we were able to question these outstanding military leaders at great length.

                My army classmates said that they called General Kroesen “John Wayne.” And sure enough, General Kroesen looked and spoke a little like the famous actor. But, that’s not why he was so unusual. General Kroesen had served in every rank in the U.S. Army, from private through four-star general. He retired as Commanding General, U.S. Army in Europe. He was a four star general. Four stars is the most any general has worn since General of the Army Omar Bradley of World War II fame retired. Bradley was the last of the retiring officers from World War II who were given five stars.

                General Kroesen had been drafted as a private, and then promoted successively through the ranks of private first class, corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, technical sergeant, and master sergeant. At this point, he won a battlefield commission to the rank of second lieutenant. He was then successively moved through the officer ranks of first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general and full general. Quite an accomplishment!

                Someone noted that as a major general, General Kroesen had served as commander of the army’s recruiting command. At that time, this was considered a final assignment prior to retirement, and not as a stepping stone to a three star (lieutenant general) job. But Kroesen had been promoted to lieutenant general and given command of a corps out of this “retirement” job. During the question and answer session, one of my fellow students  asked  Kroesen how this happen to take place.

                Said General Kroesen: “I think one of the reasons for my success was that no matter what job I held in the Army, I became intensely interested in it and resolved to become an expert. So, when I was appointed head of army recruiting, I did the same thing. I became an expert, maybe, the world’s best recruiter. As you might imagine, because I was now an expert, army recruiting improved dramatically. Up until then, some senior Army leaders thought in terms of my retirement. But, then they said, ‘Wait a minute. If this guy can even take an unglamorous job like recruiting and make such a success of it, we better take a second look before we let him go.’ They did, and I was promoted to three stars and went on from there to get promoted again.”


What Peter the Great and General Kroesen Had in Common

Peter I , the 17th Russian Tsar was called “the Great” for a reason. He not only was a great administrator and a great military leader, he founded the Russian empire. He changed what had been a backward country into a modern Western state. Like General Kroesen, Peter the Great served in every rank in the Russsian army from private on up. Previous rulers were given senior rank in a elite regiment or fleet even before they were teenagers. Peter refused to accept any rank he did not earn. He enlisted in the Preobrazhensky Regiment as a drummer boy because that was the very lowest position. He allowed himself to be promoted only when he felt he had merited the promotion. When on garrison duty, or in the field he permitted no distinction between himself and others. When it was his turn at guard duty, that’s what he did. He slept in the same tents as his brother soldiers and ate the same food. When ordered to dig, he dug, and when the regiment paraded, he stood in the ranks, undistinguished from others.

                Slowly, laboriously, at every level, he learned his stuff and became an expert. Like General Kroesen, he eventually won an officer’s commission, and eventually general officer rank.  His refusing to serve in military positions other than what he earned became a lifelong policy. When he went with his army or sailed with his fleet, it was always as a subordinate commander. He believed that leaders had to know their stuff, and to do this, they must learn their business from the bottom up. Only when he had acquired expertise at one level would he agree to be promoted to the next highest level.[21]


How Steven Spielberg Became an Award Winning Director

Steven Spielberg is arguably the most successful movie-maker of our time. He demonstrated the same concept as Private Kroesen used to become a four star general. Steven Spielberg was only in his twenties when he directed the immensely successful movie Jaws. Spielberg didn’t stop with one big hit. This is the man that made science fiction thrillers like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sensitive movies like ET, adventure thrillers such as Indiana Jones, serious movies including The Color Purple and Schindler’s List, and movies of spectacular technical effects such as Jurassic Park and its follow-on.

                How did Spielberg accomplish all this at such an early age? Wealthy parents with connections in the movie industry? Not quite. His father was an electrical and computer engineer and his mother a concert pianist. They got divorced when Steven was still in his teens shortly after they moved to California.

                Maybe Steven went to a great graduate film school like the University of Southern California (USC) in nearby Los Angeles? Then, he was hired right into a high paying director’s job. Right? Wrong! As a matter of fact, Spielberg  applied to USC twice. And, he got turned down twice. USC probably regrets that decision dearly.

                No, Spielberg’s secret was that he took the time to become an expert at what he wanted to do. While only 12, he got his hands on an 8mm movie camera and began to turn out home movies starring relatives and friends. He decided right then on his life’s goal: he wanted to make movies.

                A year later, he actually won a prize for writing a fully scripted war movie. At the age of  16, he made a real 2 ½ hour science fiction movie. It cost $500. He persuaded a local theater to run it as a favor. It must not have been great, because they only ran it once. But that didn’t bother Spielberg, because he was almost an expert.

                While he was waiting to receive the second of two rejections from the USC film school, he took a tour at Universal Studios. Lots of people take that tour, I’ve taken it myself. But, while on it Spielberg wandered off on his own. He found an abandoned trailer and decided to set up shop in it. On the trailer’s side he painted, “Spielberg Productions.”  He looked and talked as if he knew what he was doing. In fact, since he knew his stuff, he did.  By now, he was an expert. He was not yet an award-winning director, but he was already an expert. So, despite the strictness of studio security,  no one stopped him. It was just five years since he started making those home movies.

                Thereafter, he began coming “to work” every day in his trailer. The guards got to know him and assumed he belonged there. He was able to go anywhere on the studio lot. He learned a lot about how movies were made, and made lots of contacts.

                At age 22, he borrowed $15,000 from a friend and made a short film. Through his contacts, it came to the attention of the president of Universal Studios. It must have been pretty good, because he immediately recognized Spielberg’s talent and expertise.  He hired Spielberg as a director on a seven year contract. Spielberg had become an expert. He knew his stuff, and his many successes followed.


You Must Learn From Every Experience, As Washington Did in War

Every experience as a leader can teach us something, the failures perhaps more than the successes. In fact, you may be able to make an argument for the case that the more and bigger failures you have, the greater your potential for success – so long as you learn from your experiences.

                George Washington began as Commander-in-Chief of American forces with no top level command experience. Previously, he had been a major in the British Army. Consequently, he blundered badly at first. So much so, that his mistakes could have ended the American Revolution less than two months after our Declaration of Independence.

What did he do wrong? First, he demurred in the Continental Congress direction to defend New York, even though he knew that to do so threatened the very existence of his army, and therefore American Independence.

Once having made this decision, he split his army, putting one third under the able Major General Nathanael Greene on Long Island and retaining the remainder under his personal command on Manhattan to prevent the British from attacking up the Hudson. Greene’s selection was a good choice, but splitting his army was dangerous. The two forces were not mutually supporting, and the British could have concentrated first against one, and than against the other and easily defeated both.

When General Greene fell ill, Washington blundered again. He chose Major General Israel Putnam as Greene’s replacement. Unfortunately, General Putnam was a general that needed to be on a very short leash. Washington should have kept him on one until he better knew his capabilities. Instead, he trusted Putnam in this critical assignment and did little supervision, even though Putnam was mostly an unknown quantity.

But that wasn’t all. Washington didn’t make the command relationship between himself and Putnam clear. Putnam didn’t know whether he had an independent command and could do as he saw fit, or if he should try to function under Washington’s immediate direction.

Washington’s opponent, the British General Howe, shifted the bulk of his forces to Long Island. He discovered that Putnam had made a basic error. The American left flank was not secured along the Brooklyn Heights. In fact, it was “in the air.” Howe easily brought 10,000 men around Putnam’s left flank, and encircled his army. Putnam’s defense collapsed.

Washington then compounded his earlier errors. He took reinforcements to Long Island. This had the effect of moving additional troops into the trap. The river was unaffordable river, and so couldn’t be supported or reinforced easily. Washington’s army was in the perfect position to be totally destroyed. He was saved only because Howe failed to attack. This was so bizarre that historians can only speculate that perhaps the British commander deferred in the hopes that the Americans would rejoin the mother country with minimum bloodshed. In plain fact, we came very close to losing the war. On the night on 29-30 August,  Washington wisely evacuated his troops and withdrew.

Eventually Washington was pushed out of New York proper, and reestablished a defensive position near White Plains. Here again, he split his army, placing half under the command of the ambitious and incompetent Major General Charles Lee. The only thing that saved the loss of Lee’s entire command was that Lee himself managed to get himself captured by the British, thus removing top level  incompetence from American ranks.

On December 26th, Washington won his small, but important victory at Trenton, New Jersey by crossing the Delaware River. You’ve probably seen the famous painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” However, soon after  his victory, Washington suddenly realized that he had erred again. He had left is right flank unprotected just as Putnam had done. It was exposed to British attack. If that flank were turned, he would have no place to go but back toward the sea.

However, with all these mistakes, Washington was learning his trade. He learned from every experience. Washington didn’t dwell on his errors. He analyzed the situation, drew conclusions and noted what he had done wrong and what he had done right. He planned how he would react in the future.

Washington slipped around the British secretly by using icy back roads. He made a forced march to Princeton. Where he had numerical superiority over the enemy. Through this action, he surprised, attacked, and defeated three British regiments. These were part of another British General, Cornwallis’ army. It was much larger than his. Washington couldn’t take British General Cornwallis’ army on head to head. He didn’t have the strength. But entrenched aside Cornwallis’ line of communications, he forced the British to evacuate all of central and western New Jersey. Frederick the Great called this ten days’ campaign beginning with Washington’s crossing the Delaware, “one of the most brilliant in military history”[22] . . . and that despite the mistakes.


With a Little Learning,  Abe Lincoln Failed His Way to Success

Learning from your experience also applies on a personal level. In this way, you can actually fail your way to success. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this comes from another of our country’s foremost leaders.

In 1832, Abraham Lincoln lost his job. He learned and moved on. He ran for the State Legislature of Illinois the same year. He was badly defeated. He learned and moved on again. He started his own business in 1833. He went broke. But, he learned from the experience. In 1838, he ran for Speaker. He lost again, but again he learned. He learned more from a failed bid for nomination to Congress in 1843, a rejected appointment to the U.S. Land Office in 1849, a defeat for a U.S. Senate seat in 1854, and another defeat for nomination to U.S. vice-president in 1856. He finally learned from yet another defeat for the Senate in 1858 before becoming President of the United States in 1861. Whereupon, he saved the Union, abolished slavery, and left his mark as one of our greatest presidents. Although not referred to much today, Lincoln had combat experience from the Black Hawk Indian War.

                Self-made millionaire Wayne Allyn Root actually organized this idea into a formalized structure and wrote a book which he called The Joy of Failure. Root himself says that after getting rejected by law school, he lost a political election, and then drove his real estate business into the ground. Says Root, “I failed at twelve careers and businesses.”[23] However, like Lincoln he learned from every failure.

John Macy failed, but learned, from seven previous department stores attempts before he founded the one that caught on that bears his name. It is said that Thomas Edison failed at more than a thousand attempts to invent the light bulb. It seemed that every material he tried for filament burned up. While many of us would call each attempt another failure, Edison had it right. Declared America’s most versatile inventor: “I have not failed. I have learned yet another material that will not work as a filament.”


How a Social Security Recipient Became a Multi-Millionaire

 “Colonel” Harland Sanders got his first social security check after retirement, and decided it wasn’t enough to live on. He then went on the road and spent two years trying to sell owners of fast food restaurants on the idea of using his recipe for Kentucky fried chicken. He didn’t ask for any money up front, only that the owner try his recipe, and if successful, give him a few pennies from each sale. Every single owner he approached turned him down. But Sanders learned from each rejection. He improved his presentation. He did more research. He learned to handle every possible objection. Finally, after two years, he got an acceptance. And then another, and another, and another after that. Like Lincoln, and other great leaders, he never stopped learning.

No wonder when he was Governor of Kentucky, John Y. Brown, Jr., who was also former owner of  Kentucky Fried Chicken, wrote about him: “Sanders took a bunch of people, most of whom had never been successful in their lives, and made them something of themselves.[24]. . . In my lifetime I have had the opportunity to meet and know nine Presidents, most of the political and business leaders of our time, but the Colonel still stands as one of those great men you can count on one hand.”[25]

Norm Brodsky, is president of CitiStorage, an archive-retrieval business in Brooklyn, New York, and past Inc. 500 business owner.  He also writes the “Street Smarts” column in Inc. magazine. In 2006 CitiStorage won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.  He says, “You will never stop making mistakes. We hope that the new ones won’t be the same as the old ones, but I promise you they’ll be just as painful . . . But, as upset as you may get, it’s important to bear in mind that failure is still the best teacher. You’ll do fine as long as you’re open to the lessons it’s trying to teach you.”[26]


Your Subordinates Can Teach You

You can learn a lot from your employees as from all experiences. But why not structure this learning experience? One of the biggest innovations in teaching over the last thirty-five years are teaching evaluations. When I attended school for my bachelors, masters, and PhD, we evaluated no one. Even the thought would have been revolutionary. What do students know? If they knew anything, they wouldn’t be students, would they? What can a professor possibly learn from a student?

One of my professors at the University of Chicago in 1967 only half-jokingly correcting one of my classmates, Captain Charles Melenyzer, U.S. Air Force.  Melenyzer asked innocently, “Professor Brownlee, why can’t you do it this way? You get the same answer.” With a twinkle in his eye Professor Brownlee immediately responded, “Mr. Melenyzer, I do not object to your question, it is a good one. However, I do object to your right to ask it.”

One didn’t ask such questions in those days. Too bad. Professor Brownlee was brilliant and well-liked. He was a good professor. However, he could have been a better one. However, without feedback of this sort it is impossible to learn from your subordinates and you cannot improve. You do not know your stuff to the extent that you could.

Thank goodness someone broke the paradigm and changed all that. Today, students confidentially evaluate their professors at almost every university. And, we learn a lot from these evaluations. We improve our courses. We improve our presentations. We improve as leaders. We improve as professors. It helps us to know our stuff.


Learning From Subordinates in the Military

Some years ago, I was selected to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C.. At the time I was a university department chairman and was an Air Force Reservist. The Industrial College of the Armed Forces is part of National Defense University and is a “war college” or senior service school. It is a school for Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps lieutenant colonels and colonels and Navy commanders and captains who have demonstrated a potential for senior rank. It is basically for active duty officers, although a limited number of reservists from each service also attend. Thus I was selected as one of three Air Force reservists in my class of a little over 200 officer-students.

Prior to my departure, I received a package of leader evaluation forms from the college. I was instructed to give them to subordinates, colleagues, and superiors. The evaluations were then mailed directly to the college without my having seen them. Later, we were shown the composite scores of our individual evaluations separated into categories of subordinates, colleagues, and superiors. We were also shown those for the entire class. I learned a great deal about how I was perceived as a leader by those I led, those I associated with, and those who led me. Some of this information I could have learned in no other way. Yes, we can learn a great deal from those we lead.


Never Stop Learning

Leaders who think they have learned all they’ll ever need to know for their careers make a big mistake. There are always new ways of doing things being developed. Technology changes. The business environment is constantly changing and is usually different as the leader becomes involved with new companies, industries, or geographical areas.

Peter F. Drucker, “The Father of Modern Management” and my professor  said in class, “A successful organization that continues to do what made it successful in the past will eventually fail.”  Why is this? Because of change. It makes what an organization knew or did to achieve success in the past irrelevant or even wrong. So leaders who lead organizations must constantly learn just to keep up with change. They must constantly consider new approaches and new techniques with every task or project they are assigned. I thought so much of this lesson that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book, A Class with Drucker, written because I was the first graduate of Drucker’s executive PhD program.

Lieutenant General Richard G. Trefry is a retired army officer. He commanded combat operations in Vietnam and Laos, and later served as Military Assistant to the President, and Director of the White House Military Office. General Trefry noted, “This is a profession that requires a lifetime of service to teach yourself that you never know everything. As a matter of fact, when you stop learning and teaching, you stop growing.”[28]


What General Schwarzkopf Did That No Commander Had Done Before

General Norman Schwarzkopf’s victory against Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm was unique. Not only were the losses suffered by coalition forces extremely small considering the large numbers of troops and firepower involved, but this was done against a background of an attack against the world’s seventh largest army. What made all the difference was not the “Hail Mary” left hook during the ground campaign. This was an excellent strategy once the ground war started, and it worked to cut off much of Saddam’s army and to defeat it. However, in my judgment, the real difference was but the way in which air power was used before the ground campaign even started.

             Air power theorists have long maintained that air power is decisive in warfare. Some claimed that air power by itself could win a war. Yet, while few doubted air power’s impact, it had always fallen short of claims made by Air Force generals. In World War II, German production of airplanes actually increased, even though U.S. and Royal Air Force bomber crews maintained around-the-clock bombing, night and day. The war in Korea ended in stalemate, despite American air superiority. In the Vietnam War, a laundry list of targets in North Vietnam was struck sequentially until few remained. Still, it was North Vietnam that prevailed.

           From these experiences, Army generals came to be leery about some of the claims of what air power could do. Of course, everyone recognized the power of nuclear weaponry in an all out war. But, this was something everyone was doing their best to avoid. So after Vietnam, the Army evolved a concept known as the Air-Land Battle. In this doctrine, the air campaign was relegated to a secondary role in supporting the ground assault, while both were to be initiated simultaneously against an aggressor. When Saddam Hussein invaded to Kuwait and refused to withdraw, this seemed to be a perfect case for the implementation of this type of warfare.

Meanwhile, many Air Force leaders tended to think of air power in terms of strategic or tactical use. Because of the Cold War, strategic air power generally meant the use of nuclear weapons against an enemy’s homeland. Tactical meant an emphasis on supporting the ground campaign. There  would be no nuclear weapons used against Iraq. So, many in the Air Force saw the Gulf War as one in which the Air Force’s primary mission would be to support the land combat forces once the ground war started, and not to conduct a strategic air campaign of either the World War II or Vietnam War variety.

         There was strategist one who did not agree with this analysis. He thought there were other possibilities. His was an Air Force colonel by the name of John Warden. Colonel Warden was a brilliant air strategist and the author of a book on planning air campaigns. In 1990, Warden was assigned to the Pentagon as Air Force deputy director for war fighting concepts and head of a directorate in Air Force Plans known as “Checkmate.”

When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Warden was vacationing with his wife in the Caribbean. He hurried back to the Pentagon and got his team to work immediately on giving the Air Force something he was convinced did not exist at the time: a concept for offensive action using air power. Plans did exist for deploying an air force in defense of Saudi Arabia. However, no plan existed for attacking Iraq strategically by air. Working at a feverish pace, he and his team put together a proposal for a strategic air campaign which they called “Instant Thunder.”

The selection of this name in itself was significant. During Vietnam, the campaign called “Rolling Thunder,” was supposed to steadily increase the pressure on North Vietnam by sequentially destroying important targets over a period of time. It failed to accomplish its objective. Warden’s plan was to destroy Saddam’s ability to wage war by destroying targets critically important to his regime simultaneously and right at the start of the war. Warden recognized that if this were done, it would paralyze Iraqi war-fighting potential and isolate the Iraqi army in Kuwait from re-supply, intelligence from and to the battlefield, and even orders and coordination from the Iraqi dictator. Then, the bombers could be turned against the Iraqi army entrenched in Kuwait in more direct support of a ground campaign. When the ground campaign started, Iraqi forces would already be weakened, cut-off from Iraq proper, and demoralized. It would make the ground assault far easier.

Warden was able to present his plan to the Commander-in-Chief, General Schwarzkopf. But how would he receive it? As mentioned previously, a strategic air campaign was not anticipated for the Gulf War, even within the Air Force. Moreover, Colonel Warden’s group was operating off its turf. The Checkmate organization was set up in the Pentagon as sort of an Air Force think tank within the Air Force Directorate of Planning. Schwarzkopf commanded Central Command or CENTCOM. Normally, the planning for the air campaign would be accomplished, within CENTCOM’s air component commanded by Lieutenant General Charles Horner. Within CENTCOM, Air-Land Battle doctrine gave priority to destruction of the Iraqi army, not a separate strategic air campaign.

Warden briefed his new concept to General Schwarzkopf. General Schwarzkopf responded immediately and without hesitation, “That’s exactly what I want! Do it! You have my approval – 100 percent! This is absolutely essential! I will call the Chairman today and have him give you a directive to proceed with detailed planning immediately . . . This will lower losses.”[29]

Later, General Horner, and his own planner, Brigadier General Buster Glosson modified Warden’s initial planning extensively. Nevertheless, they remained true to Warden’s basic concept. When Colonel Warden retired from the Air Force in 1996 as Commandant of the Air Command and Staff College, he received a special letter from another retired officer. General Norman Schwarzkopf wrote thanking Colonel Warden for his contribution and his important role in attaining the decisive victory in the Gulf with minimum allied casualties. However, it was Schwarzkopf himself who immediately grasped the opportunity that Warden presented. To do this he had to overcome the biases not only within the Air Force, but within his own service. Schwarzkopf was successful because he didn’t try to re-fight past wars, most specially the war in Vietnam. He learned from them, but he never stopped learning. He knew his stuff.


Until This Man Became CEO, The Avon Lady Almost Quit Calling

Traditionally, it is men who have always run Avon. They held all the senior management positions. When the environment started changing in the 1970s, these men almost ran Avon into to the ground. Avon sells its cosmetic products through independent saleswomen. These were mostly part time house wives who were not working in companies as part of the regular workforce.

The company’s research showed that women were entering the work force in greater numbers. So, when Avon Ladies called, women were less and less at home to buy. Moreover, it was getting harder and harder to recruit Avon Ladies, because they now had other work options. Avon was faced with fewer customers at home, and fewer salespeople to sell those products in the home. Its stock plummeted from $140 to $20 a share. Operating margins fell from 21.7 to 11.4 percent.[30] Avon operated in a women’s world. But what would Avon’s men decide to do?

Avon could have followed the market into the workplace. Instead, Avon’s male leaders first denied the trend, and then sought refuge through acquisition. Acquisition was considered a very macho thing to do. Maybe so, but it was a disaster. Afterwards, there were no less than three take-over attempts. Surviving these, Avon was able to boast only a horrendous debt, losses, and a product line that was dying of neglect.

          Then Jim Preston took over as CEO. He knew it was time for a change, and he knew what that change had to be. Said Head of Human Resources, Marcia Worthing, “We really filled the pipeline with women.” They did diversity training. They set quotas. When they analyzed performance reviews, they found out that men were hesitant about criticizing women subordinates and the need for improvement. They corrected that. Then, they found a difference in what it took to get promoted. Men were promoted on potential based on past accomplishments. But, women were promoted solely on past accomplishments. It was almost as if they had to accomplish some set figure in the mind of their bosses, or they got a performance evaluation which read, “she’s not quite ready yet.” Preston began looking at that phrase as a sure sign he should give a woman a shot at a bigger job. He did. Most were successful.

Preston also changed executive perks. He did away with the annual hunting trips where the routine was for male executives to wile away the night drinking and playing cards. Season tickets to the Knicks and Yankees disappeared in favor of tickets to the New York Ballet and New York Philharmonic. Women were given showers and lockers in their bathrooms just like the men. A new image of an Avon Lady made an appearance in an Avon advertising campaign. Avon Lady Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who is also a former Olympic athlete, typified this. Said Joyner-Kersee in the ad. “I throw a nine-pound shot put 51 feet. I bench-press 155 pounds. I have red toenails.”

Preston never stopped learning, and he took action on what he had learned. But, what are the results? Well, for one thing when Preston retires next year, four of  the six candidates to replace him as CEO are women. In 1999, this actual happened. A 41-year Chinese-American woman by the name of Andrea Jung became Avon’s first female CEO and then Chairman of the Board two years later. How has she done? In 2001, Time Magazine/CNN declared her one of the 25 Most Influential Global Executives, and in January 2003, she was featured in Business Week as one of the best managers of the year. She has been ranked among Fortune and Forbes magazine’s “50 most powerful women in business” for the past five years,

And has this new emphasis on women for a women’s product and market had any positive quantifiable results? Try this. In 1996, sales were $4.8 billion.  Avon stock and profits shot up 52% in two years. Avon stock produced a 30% compounded annual return to stockholders, including dividends since 1989. This outpaced the Standard & Poors 500. [31 Annual revenue today is $10 billion a year.[32 Because Preston never stopped learning and knows his stuff, Avon continues to prosper.         



                If you want to be a real leader, don’t waste your time learning how to defend your turf or being perceived as a “fast burner”. Instead,

  • Know Your People
  • Become an Expert
  • Learn from Every Experience
  • Never Stop Learning

                That way, your people will follow you because you:  KNOW YOUR STUFF

[1] Schwartz, William L., survey form and letter to the author, May 3, 1996.

[2] National Research Council with the collaboration of the Science Service, Psychology for the Fighting Man, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1944) p. 307.

[3] Luth, Wolfgang, “Command of Men in a U-Boat,”speech given in 1943 at a German Naval Officers’ Course reported in Harald Busch, U-Boats at War,” (New York: Ballantine Books, 1955) p. 162.

[4] Montgomery, Bernasrd L., The Memoirs of Field-Marshall Montgomery  (New York: World Publishing Co., 1958) p. 77.

[5] Fisher, Anne, “Six Ways to Supercharge Your Career,” Fortune (January 13, 1997) p.46.

[6] Zellner, Wendy, “The Right Time, The Right Place,” Business Week (May 27, 1996) pp. 74-75.

[7] McMullen, Thomas H., survey form and note to author, July 26, 1993.

[8] Lesly, Elizabeth, Amy Cortese, and Ron Grover, “Bill Getes, The Cable Guy,” Business Week (July 14, 1997) pp. 22-24

[9] Hackett, Sir John, The Profession of Arms (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1983) p. 217.

[10] Hummer, Jay, survey form and letter to the author May 13, 1996.

[11] Cohen, William A., The Art of the Leader (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990) pp.123-124.

[12] Barkalow, Carol,  with Andrea Raab, In the Men’s House, (New York: Poseidon Press, 1990). P.194

[13] O’Grady, Scott, with Jeff Coplon, Return With Honor, (New York: Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1995) p.71.

[14] Op.Cit. HackettP. 215.

[15] Meyer, Edward C., survey form and note to the author, November 10, 1993.

[16] For those who want to know more about these Jungian concepts, the MBTI and how it is used, I can recommend the following books: Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers (Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980); Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates (Del Mar, California: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1984);Type Talk by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen (New York: Dell Publishing, 1988).

[17] von Schell, Adolph, Battle Leadership,  (Quantico, Virginia: The Marine Corps Association, 1982) Originally published (Ft. Benning, Georgia: The Benning Herald, 1933). Foreword.

[18] Ibid. P. 9.

[19] Ibid. Pp.11-12.

[20] Lawrence, Alexander, “139, ”  in Max Hastings, editor, The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) pp. 174-175.

[21] Massie, Robert K., “96,” in Max Hastings, editor, The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) pp.139-140.

[22] Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy, Military Heritage of America (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1956). Pp. 86-91.

[23] Stuberg, Robert, “An Interview with Wayne Root,”  Insight, No. 175, (Niles, Illinois:  Nightingale-Comnant Corporation, 1997).

[24] Pearce, John Ed, The Colonel (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1982) dustcover.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Brodsky, Norm, “Failure Can Be the Best Teacher You’ll Ever Have – Provided You’re Ready To Learn,” Inc. Magazine Archives, Inc. Online (November 1996) p.31.

[27] Teitelbaum, Richard, “How To Harness Gray Matter,” Fortune (June 9, 1997) p. 168.

[28] Trefry, Richard G., survey form and note to the author, August 2, 1993.

[29] Reynolds, Richard T., Heart of the Storm: The Genesis of the Air Campaign Against Iraq,  (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, 1995) pp.56-57.

[30] “Avon Tries a New Formula to Restore Its Glow,” Business Week (July 2, 1984) p.46.

[31] Morris, Betsy, “If Women Ran the World,” Fortune (July 21, 1997) pp.74-79.

[32] No author listed, Avon, Accessed April 29, 2008 at


A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.

– General of the Armies John J. Pershing


by Napoleon Hill

This  is an amazing book, and I recommend it to all leaders. It is a little different from the books I’ve found for you in the past. From the title you may think it has nothing to do with leadership. You would be wrong. I first read it almost 40 years ago. The book was written during the heights of the U.S. depression in 1937 when Napoleon Hill was working as a “dollar a year man” in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. It had such an impact that it immediately became a best seller and went into many successive printings and it is still in print today. I don’t know what the total size of its readership is, but I would guess more than a 100 million, and it is still in print and selling in hard cover. You can download this book free from White Dove Books. The link to receive this book is

Here is some additional information about Think and Grow Rich. This is regarded as a classic on success and achievement . The millionaires he outlines in this book credit their fortunes to the principles. However the truth is “grow rich” means more than just grow rich in money. It includes contribution, personal growth, leadership —  any human endeavor.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the story behind Think and Grow Rich. It in itself is extremely interesting. Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish steel industry tycoon who was once a poor Scottish immigrant, was the Bill Gates of his day. Not only was he rich beyond imagination, he was said to have more millionaires working for him than anyone else at that time. And a million dollars in those days around the turn of the century was a lot more in today’s dollars.

To succeed as Andrew Carnegie did, he must have done something different than anyone else. Napoleon Hill was a young journalist assigned to interview Carnegie. Hill had asked Carnegie the secret of his immense success. Carnegie in turn asked Hill if he would be willing to spend 20 years or more in learning his secret by researching the secrets of the most successful men at the time and with Carnegie setting up interviews with them. The only catch was that Hill was to receive no compensation from Carnegie for his investment in time and effort.

Napoleon Hill agreed to these unusual terms and set out to find a practical formula that average men and women could use to generate wealth, happiness, and overall success.

During more than 20 years of research, Hill interviewed more than 504 extraordinarily successful people including:

  • Henry Ford
  • Thomas Edison
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Dr. Alexander Graham Bell
  • Wilbur Wright
  • Charles M. Schwab
  • and others equally famous

Can you imagine being able to sit down and chat with these people about how they achieved all that they did? To be able to spend even 5 minutes with any of these fellows would be priceless. These men were the top leaders of their day and they are deservedly still famous. Napoleon Hill extracted their secrets of how they became successful and condensed their concepts into 13 steps to success. This is Think and Grow Rich. Your investment in time in reading this book will be well worthwhile.


I can’t count the number of leadership lessons in this book. Here are just a few:

1. Hill explains the power of autosuggestion. You may recognize this as “psyching yourself up.” But this method is proven in sports and more. You’ve got to believe something before you can achieve it. A good motto for all of us is “believe and achieve.” Charles Garfield with two doctorates in mathematics and psychology wrote an entire book about this topic. He saw a girl’s soccer team in Scarsdale, New York win victory after victory for many years apply this principle. and he himself related an incident where Russian psychologists experimenting with operational ways of implementing this principle got Garfield, a former Olympic weightlifter to bench press 15% higher than he ever had in Olympic competition in one night!

2. If you want to be a great leader you must have a strong desire to do so. I’ve trained thousands of leaders in the classroom, in business and the military. I’ve found that the biggest reason for success or failure as a competent leader is simply the desire to be one.

3. Hill found that if you want success in anything you must have structured planning. I have absolutely found this true in my own careers and interestingly, Peter Drucker, “the father of modern management” said it was one of the basic principles of leadership.

4. Persistence is another one of Hill’s principle. During World War II, England stood alone against the  Germans from the fall of France in 1940 until the U.S. got in the war a year and a half later. The English were outnumbered, underarmed, and made lots of mistakes. They barely saved their army with the seaborne retreat from Dunkirk. But in the worst of these days, Churchill, the British Prime Minister, would exit number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s resident with his derby in hand, a cigar clenched firmly in his teeth and a big smile on his face. Despite every setback, and there were many, Churchill told the English people. “We will never surrender . . . never . . . never. ” and they didn’t. The British persisted and fought on, even though Hitler thought England would surrender. Eventually the U.S. got in the war as did the Russians, and France too, after it was liberated. The allies too persisted and achieved ultimate victory.

5. In his book, Hill teaches us how to acquire, keep and use a positive regardless of the environment in which we find ourselves. Churchill knew this secret, and you can too.


This month’s free downloadable book. is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Leadership is all about influencing others. I discovered this about twenty years ago and so asked to teach a course at the university which previously didn’t interest me at all. That course was salesmanship. I had discovered that both leadership and salesmanship shared this important quality. I completed an article recently, “Drucker on Leadership.” In doing the research Ire-read one of the last books that he wrote before his death in 2005. That book is Management Challenges for the 21st Century HarperBusiness, 1999). I was surprised and delighted to note that my former professor had come to the same conclusion. Your time invested in reading How to Win Friends and Influence People will be well spent. I located the following website where this book can be downloaded: . Of course you can still get a printed version at through at for as littles as 2.95 used.