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Leadership In War By Andrew Roberts

July 5, 2020


Chapter 1: Napoleon Bonaparte

  • “Napoleon recognized that the best way to inspire his people was through two means: imbuing people with the belief that they were fighting for honor and ideology, and rewarding good work.” P. 3
  • “Napoleon believed in rewarding service.” P. 4
  • “Napoleon genuinely liked spending time with his men. He had an almost democratic openness that endeared him to them. So long as they were not overtly rude, they were permitted to call out to him directly from the ranks, to question him, and to ask him for favors.” P. 6
  • “Napoleon always read petitions from soldiers and civilians, and granted as many as he reasonably could within France’s budget.” P. 6
  • “Napoleon cemented his popularity in the eyes of his men by doing his best to take care of them when they were wounded or ill.” P. 7
  • “Napoleon tweaked his soldiers’ earlobes (sometimes quite painfully), joked, and reminisced with them and was constantly inquiring about their conditions of service. His guiding principle was ‘Severe to the officers, kindly to the men.’” P. 9
  • “Napoleon had a capacious memory for faces and names.” P. 10
  • “Napoleon could demonstrate intuitive foresight about how campaigns would develop, a hugely important quality in any war leader.” P. 11
  • “Napoleon’s regular proclamations and Orders of the Day greatly inspired his troops.” P. 12
  • Napoleon inspired his men verbally, too.” P. 12
  • “Yet Napoleon could be harsh with his men, too. Leaders need to understand mass psychology and he recognized that shame could occasionally work almost as well as lavishing praise and heaping rewards on troops.” P. 14
  • “Napoleon ensured that plays were written to glorify the Grande Armee, songs and operatic arias sung, proclamations made, festivals inaugurated, ceremonies held, standards and medals distributed. He designed glorious uniforms for his army, to encourage esprit, differentiate units from afar, and impress the opposite sex.” P. 15
  • “Napoleon instinctively understood the power of symbols and what soldiers wanted.” P. 15
  • “Napoleon would also praise enemy generals he despised and ignore ones he admired in the hope that the bad ones would be promoted and the good ones dismissed.” P. 16
  • “Much of Napoleon’s extraordinary capacity for work derived from his ability to compartmentalize his mind, to concentrate entirely on whatever problem was before him, to the exclusion of all else.” P. 17
  • “He nonetheless had relatively little time to sleep, regularly working up to eighteen hours a day.” P. 17
  • “One aspect of Napoleon’s leadership that proved essential, especially in the retreats and defeats of the latter part of his reign, was his Olympian calmness under pressure.” P. 17
  • “To achieve success on the battlefield, it was not necessary for Napoleon to invent new strategies and tactics for the French Army: Instead, he brilliantly adapted the new thinking of others for the wars he had to fight.” P. 18
  • “One of Napoleon’s hallmarks – at least in his early campaigns – was his speed.” P. 19
  • “Great leaders occasionally need to be utterly ruthless.” P. 20
  • “The cruelty that Napoleon showed was, however, on an ad hoc basis, and certainly not built into the entire ethos of his government,” p. 20
  • “At Toulon he learned not to be afraid to take control, even from those older, senior, and more experienced officers than himself,” p. 22
  • “He mastered the art of working with close colleagues in a cooperative but necessarily competitive atmosphere” p. 22
  • “Napoleon learned how to control the message and how what really happened is often not as important as what people think happened.” P. 22
  • “Napoleon surrounded himself with the best people for each situation, whom he was prepared to change as the situation changed.” P. 23
  • “Napoleon showed how timing was everything. His patient study of his opponents’ psychology helped him work out precisely the best moment for him to strike.” P. 23
  • “Napoleon proved that given courage and steady nerves, leaders can make extraordinary comebacks” p. 23
  • “Leaders need to be energetic, or at least convey a sense of energy to their followers.” P. 24
  • “Napoleon’s career demonstrated the importance of compartmentalization, meticulous planning, knowledge of terrain, superb timing, steady nerves, valuing the importance of discipline and training, understanding the psychology of the normal soldier to create esprit de corps, the issuing of inspirational speeches and proclamations, controlling the news, adapting the tactical ideas of others, asking pertinent questions of the right people, a deep learning and appreciation of history, a formidable memory, utter ruthlessness when necessary, the deployment of personal charisma, immense calm under unimaginable pressure (especially in moments that look like defeat), an almost obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, rigorous control of emotions, and the ability to exploit a momentary numerical advantage at the decisive point on the battlefield – and, not least, good luck.” P. 26


Chapter 2: Horatio Nelson

  • “In his brief forty-seven years, before he was shot down at the climax of his almost impossibly adventurous life, Horatio Nelson mixed fearless gallantry, unrelenting aggression, a powerful sense of duty, faith in God, hatred of the French in general and French revolutionaries in particular, and a genius for both naval strategy and tactics with monstrous vanity, ceaseless self-promotion, and a driving ambition. Yet ambition is not a sin if allied to extraordinary ability, which in his case it undoubtedly was.” P. 27
  • “Men of action, when eminently successful in early life, are generally boastful and full of themselves.” P. 28
  • “Bravery and luck played only a limited part in Nelson’s victories; his superb seamanship and acute ability to exploit opportunities were a much more important part of his naval strategy, born of the Royal Navy’s excellent on-the-job training.” P. 35
  • “He was loved by ordinary seamen in the fleet and had the ability to inspire others, sometimes simply by his mere presence at an action. Not for nothing, he has been described as a ‘natural-born predator.’” P. 39
  • “The war leadership lessons we learn from Nelson are straightforward: grasp the initiative and don’t let the enemy wrest it back; break the rules and disobey orders if necessary; show extraordinary bravery leading from the front; practice for battle ceaselessly” p. 49
  • “…loathe your enemy with a clear blue ideological flame; have a treasury back home prepared to finance the organization of fantastically expensive operations; take your lieutenants into your confidence and inspire them, and foster a reputation for berserk offensives that always keep the enemy on the defensive.” P. 50


Chapter 3: Winston Churchill

  • “Although Churchill believed in an almighty, the role of the supreme being in his theology seems to have been primarily to look after the safety of Winston Churchill. Churchill did not believe that Jesus Christ was divine, although he did think of him as a very wise and charismatic rabbi, who gave mankind what Churchill called ‘the last word in ethics.’” P. 57
  • “As well as foresight, his sheer level of self-belief was an essential part of his leadership and was evident for decades before the war broke out. As with other leaders in this book, failure was merely seen as a temporary setback that needed to be learned from, and then put behind you as you push on through.” P. 62
  • “Men of destiny have never counted risk.” P. 65


Chapter 4: Adolf Hitler

  • “Adolf Hitler was undoubtedly charismatic, but charisma is a harlot’s trick. Babies are not born charismatic; one can choose to acquire charisma, and when you had geniuses of the talent of Joseph Goebbels in charge of propaganda, Albert Speer organizing the mass rallies and their architectural backdrop, and Leni Riefenstahl in charge of the lights, action, and cameras, it proved possible to turn this entirely mediocre man into a charismatic superstar, especially when he himself had been thinking carefully about how it could be done. He would use little ruses, such as staring into people’s eyes without blinking, and never being photographed wearing spectacles or a bathing suit.” P. 69
  • “The method he used in his speeches of gradually and imperceptibly increasing the tempo and volume as the oration went on, while shortening the words and sentences, created an excitement in his audience that contributed to his charisma.” P. 69
  • When a lie is told often enough, loudly enough, and without contradiction, it ultimately tends to be believed in the absence of obvious evidence to the contrary.” P. 70
  • “One of the reasons that Hitler’s intellect was so mediocre, and prey to such moronic ideas and almost every conspiracy theory going, was that he would not take any notice of anything created by Jews. He ignored or denounced the product of centuries of civilization if it had been originally thought or written or painted or composed by Jews. The lacunae in his understanding and appreciation of history and culture were, therefore, vast.” P. 76
  • “So why was this absurd, mediocre, boorish, self-regarding, physically unprepossessing excuse for an Aryan superman so popular for so long? There are a number of reasons: He was thought to be selfless, not personally corrupt. Many Germans believed the racial theory of their own superiority.” P. 77
  • “The German people were longing for an excuse for their defeat on the Western front that was not based on the truth.” P. 78
  • “By blaming everyone other than the German Army for the defeat, Hitler was fulfilling a profound craving for the German people – the Volk – that even they themselves did not appreciate they needed.” P. 78


Chapter 5: Joseph Stalin

  • “’The reality of war for him,’ as Robert Service writes of Stalin, ‘was his conversations with Zhukov, his inspection of maps, and the orders he shouted down the telephone line at frightened politicians and commanders.’ He was the ultimate coordinator, but he generally didn’t interfere with military dispositions after it became clear that Zhukov and the other senior marshals knew better than the senior politicians what they were doing.” P. 106
  • “’No excuses were accepted for slipshod work and penalties could be very severe,’ Axell wrote. ‘Stalin never forgave carelessness in work or failure to finish a job properly,’” p. 108
  • “Yet he would also look into the day-to-day problems of the army” p. 109
  • “Stalin’s political decisions as a war leader were vital in strengthening Russian morale.” P. 109
  • “Professor Kotkin is rightly at pains to point out that it was ideology rather than psychology that best explains Stalin’s actions.” P. 116


Chapter 6: George C. Marshall

  • “Everyone, including Churchill, Brooke, and Monty, accepted that Marshall was superb at creating a massive army virtually from scratch; dealing with congress, the media, and Presidents Roosevelt and Truman; sacking no fewer than sixteen divisional commanders; and much else besides.” P. 122
  • “It was astonishing that Marshall never did seem tired, considering his responsibilities, but he had a highly ordered mind, a talent for total concentration on the matter before him, a skill at delegating (once he had filleted the general staff of incompetents, leaving only his trusted lieutenants), and a redoubtable work ethic. This courtly Pennsylvanian gentleman with beautiful manners was incorruptible, single-minded, and astonishingly calm considering the pressures on him.” P. 125
  • “Marshalls interwar years involved work so varied it could almost have been designed for a future chief of staff.” P. 125
  • “…though he had actually not led troops in combat, he had had a wide and comprehensive grounding in many different aspects of military life before he was appointed over the heads of many other generals to the top post.” P. 125
  • “…it is difficult to work out precisely what was going through Marshall’s mind at these vital meetings and moments, because he was not given to introspection or diarizing, let alone to grandstanding or ex post facto self-justification. He had the Olympian self-confidence to feel responsible to his conscience and to God, not to public opinion or the media.” P. 131
  • “Churchill and Brooke were thus wrong to denigrate his contribution as a strategist. Marshall was perfectly happy to look like the fire-eating proponent of the early offensive because he knew he would be outvoted by the British and his own President. Furthermore, he couldn’t have cared less about the verdict of history on his strategic sense, because all that mattered to him was getting it right.” P. 137
  • “The fact that George Marshall was personally oblivious to fame is not a small part of his enduring greatness.” P. 138


Chapter 7: Charles De Gaulle

  • “Great wartime leaders are often deeply influenced in their later thinking by major political events that happened in their youth.” P. 140
  • “It helped that Charles de Gaulle knew no fear, something he proved again and again.” P. 142
  • His physical courage was legendary…” p. 142
  • “Another attractive aspect of his personality was his love for his family, especially his daughter Anne, who was disabled.” P. 143
  • “De Gaulle admitted to feeling ‘an anxious pride’ in France, and well might he have for a country what was so comprehensively wrecked in the two world wars. Yet because he assumed that France needed greatness in order to be France, he simply insisted upon it, whatever the economic and strategic actualities.” P. 150
  • “It is not given to many people in history to save the honor of their country, but such was the destiny of General de Gaulle. Besides that splendid legacy, all complaints about his ingratitude, hauteur, and pettiness recede.” P. 156


Chapter 8: Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • “It is almost impossible not to dislike Ike, with his cheery countenance, relentlessly can-do optimism, and his insistence on absolute equality between Americans and Britons on his staff.” P. 159
  • “Eisenhower was a good picker of men.” P. 168
  • “Eisenhower was good at delegating, a vital prerequisite in such a job, he was careful never to cede ultimate control.” P. 168
  • “The hide of pachyderm is necessary to a great commander, and Eisenhower certainly had one. He was outwardly calm in every crisis.” P. 169
  • “Eisenhower had a good deal of common sense and much emotional intelligence, something that was not the case with a surprisingly large number of senior commanders.” P. 171
  • “It is impossible to read his correspondence, without being impressed with the good sense, energy and all-around capability which he applied to problems ranging widely from high allied policy to inter-allied relations; to military discipline, training and tactics; and to logistics, especially the available lift by road and air.’ Eisenhower was a decision-maker.” P. 171
  • “Douglas MacArthur, in his evaluation of Eisenhower in 1932, wrote that he was ‘distinguished by force, judgment, and willingness to accept responsibility,” p. 172
  • “Roosevelt chose Eisenhower as supreme commander in January 1944 because he was both a natural leader and also someone with exceptional political instincts. Generals need also to be statesmen and in wartime, politicians have to be strategists, because there is no clear divide between politics and strategy in modern war any more than there was in ancient times,” p. 176
  • “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.” P. 177


Chapter 9: Margaret Thatcher

  • ‘If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn’t you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing!’
  • “The witness of history is virtually uniform in the willingness of female decision-makers to fight, once they have decided the cause is just and/or necessary.” P. 185
  • “The Falklands taught Mrs. Thatcher that she needed her own office who could feed her information that she felt she was sometimes not receiving from departments of state, such as the Foreign Office and other ministries, which she felt distrusted her naturally combative instincts.” P. 194
  • “…resolute action against antagonists solidified support far better than appeasement” p. 196


Conclusion: The Leadership Paradigm

  • “…a letter from Aldous Huxley written from Deronda Drive in Los Angeles in November 1959, which states, ‘That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of the lessons that history has to teach us.’” P. 200
  • “It is impossible to consider the military and political career of Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, without appreciating how he consciously saw himself as a worthy modern successor to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.” P. 201
  • “Napoleon showed in his career could not in the end save him and the First Empire. He was able to compartmentalize his mind, plan meticulously with a well-trained staff under Marshal Alexandre Berthier, appreciate terrain and guess what was on the other side of the hill, time his attacks perfectly, exhibit steady nerves to his entourage, encourage esprit de corps, publish inspirational proclamations, control the news cycle, adapt to modern tactical concepts, ask the right questions, and show utter ruthlessness when necessary. His charisma was not artificially created, and until the end, he enjoyed remarkable runs of good luck.” P. 203
  • “Churchill, too, had a panoply of leadership qualities. ‘Concentration was one of the keys to his character.’” P. 204
  • “Churchill melded his life entirely around his job during the Second World War, taking only eight days’ proper holiday in the whole six years of conflict.” P. 204
  • “Unsurprisingly, many other great leaders have also been workaholics” p. 204
  • Energy is an almost demonic attribute, hard to characterize, and takes many forms.” P. 204
  • “A war leader’s ability to plan meticulously is important” p. 204
  • “For planning in particular and for leadership in general a good memory is useful, or failing that an excellent filing system.” P. 205
  • “Although it is impossible to quantify or predict, leaders need to be lucky as well as brilliant. Before he appointed anyone to the marshalate, Napoleon also wanted to know whether his generals were lucky, and luck undoubtedly does play a large part in war leadership.” P. 206
  • “As Clausewitz famously put it, ‘warfare is the continuation of politics by other means.’ A great leader also has to appreciate the political and economic terrain over which he is to campaign.” P. 206
  • “A leader has to be a realist, albeit one who appreciates the precise moment when it is possible to change public sentiment.” P. 206
  • “’The reasonable man adapts himself to the world,’ wrote George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, ‘the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’” P. 207
  • “One thing that all these tribal leaders have in common – except Hitler – was an absolute faith in their tribes being superior to their antagonists.” P. 208
  • “Having steady nerves in a crisis cannot be underestimated, but can be learned. Basil Liddell Hart wrote in his 1944 book Thoughts on War that, ‘the two qualities of mental initiative and strong personality, or determination, go a long way towards the power of command in war – they are, indeed, the hallmark of the Great Captains.’” P. 208
  • “An appreciation of the importance of discipline and training was central to the war leadership of Generals Marshall and Eisenhower; the scale of whose achievements is still awe inspiring three-quarters of a century later.” P. 209
  • “What Liddell Hart called ‘mental initiative and strong personality, or determination,’ was personified by Washington in that freezing winter of 1776-77 and was exhibited by all the other leaders in this book.” P. 210
  • “Understanding the psychology of both the ordinary soldier and the civilian is an important part of war leadership.” P. 211
  • “a capacity to empathize is far more important than one’s class background.” P. 211
  • “Napoleon similarly learned from Caesar the manner by which men could be shamed into showing bravery.” P. 211
  • “…the leader needs to have displayed personal courage that is admired by his or her followers and spoken of years after the event.” P. 212
  • “…surprisingly, a capacity for great oratory is not absolutely indispensable for leadership – Napoleon was not much of a public speaker, for example – but it can be extraordinarily helpful. Great leaders take care not to let the military establishments and staffs get between them and those they are leading, and to be able to speak directly to one’s followers is thus invaluable.” P. 213
  • “’Leadership is more than technique, though techniques are necessary,’ Richard Nixon wrote in his book Leaders. ‘In a sense, management is prose; leadership is poetry.” P. 213
  • “One of the emotions that leaders must occasionally inspire is fear, and acts of ruthlessness are part and parcel of war leadership.” P. 213
  • “Sun Tzu famously remarked in rule 2 of chapter 3 of The Art of War, ‘hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.’ Great leaders create a reputation for invincibility for themselves, thereby overawing their opponents.” P. 214
  • “As Nelson knew, the capacity to launch a surprise attack and then retain the initiative has always been important in warfare” p. 216
  • “…it is vital for the war leaders to have a sixth sense for politics, which in some areas is similar to military skill, such as in the importance of having a feel for the coup d’oeil, a sense of timing, an aptitude for observation, the gift of working out what is genuinely important as opposed to merely diversionary, a faculty for predicting an opponent’s likely behavior in differing scenarios.” P. 217
  • “Nelson ‘possessed the magic art of infusing his own spirit into others.’ Great leaders are able to make soldiers and civilians believe that they are part of a purpose that matters more than even their continued existence on the planet, and that the leader’s spirit is infused into them. Whether it is a ‘magic art’ or ‘sinister genius’ can be decided by moralists, but in it lies the secret of successful leadership in war.” P. 221