Leaders Win Where Commanders Lose (1939)

Leaders Win Where Commanders Lose

By Major Richard M. Sandusky, U.S. Infantry Canadian Defence Quarterly, Vol XVI, No 3, April 1939

For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man. Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.—Matthew viii:9.

Every man in authority has his own definition of leadership and his own methods of developing it. According to Webster, it is the ability to conduct or direct. It would be possible to list perhaps a dozen qualities essential for leadership. But at best these are merely labels, inadequately suggesting the presence of an inner power, a hidden strength and fire. denoting the confidence and capacity of the man who plays the leader's role. Napoleon did not define leadership, but indicated its vital importance in his statement that the moral is to the physical as three is to one.

The military student, searching the pages of history for some glimmering clue to greatness, is concerned with actions, not adjectives. History is written by historians. But first it is hammered and moulded and made by leaders. If we know them, may we not, following their example, duplicate their success? Unfortunately, it is not so easy as that. The world has moved too rapidly and too far; there are too many imponderables for exact and scientific comparison. Principles we may examine, yes. But it is dangerous to apply them unless we keep constantly in mind that the present is as far removed from the past as tomorrow will be from today.

The mercenary forces of Hannibal required a different leadership from the national armies of Napoleon. Proud and aristocratic knights, who furnished their own mounts and equipment, and who served without pay, would have greeted with contemptuous scorn the repressive methods employed with hard-headed peasantry, or the rabble of the towns. The leadership problems of a democracy are certainly at wide variance with those of an autocracy, and even with those of a liberal government in which there are rigid social and class distinctions.

Leadership, both military and political, is a jewel of countless facets reflecting the totality of human experience and relationships. It influences and is influenced by such diverse factors as science, philosophy and religion.

It is a common belief in the military profession that the terms command and leadership are synonymous. An official order issued by constituted authority can appoint a commander. A leader, however, is an artist whose talents can not be conferred by administrative act. Nature gives them to him in part as inherited equipment; and if she is liberal in her endowment he may become the "born leader." But in most cases he attains to leadership or his conception of it-through study and observation, and a series of experiments in the huge laboratory of human relations. A leader is a commander, but a commander is not necessarily a leader. If we could add up the characteristics of the two and subtract the difference, our evaluation of leadership would be simple and definite. Unfortunately, we deal with art not science, and the intangibles of human qualities defy precise evaluation.

Besides, vitality, enthusiasm, decisiveness, sympathy, and all the rest are but instruments. The military leader is judged not by an inventory of his virtues but by the accomplishments of his men. Actions speak louder than words, and it is by this convincing language alone that the great of the world are recorded in the long sweep of history.

A leader arouses cooperative effort in the attainment of a common goal. A commander seeks a similar result by authoritative prescription. What is the difference? It is a matter of method and organization. Men work with the leader; they work for the commander. One group is a responsive and self-respecting society of co-workers, while the other is a form of contract labor. Both may produce results. But an a crisis—and war is a series of crises—the method of the inspired and magnetic leader will win where those of the dictatorial commander would fail. Commanders may survive short wars; only leaders emerge from long ones. Time and events sift them to their proper places. There is nothing new or strange in this. It is simply common sense.

Any man will work harder for himself than for anyone else, just as he will do more under praise than under censure. Recognizing these plain truths, the wise leader employs them to stimulate and energize all individuals concerned in the group effort, increasing their latent powers, quickening their interests, lifting them to levels of achievement and inspiration seemingly impossible to attain. He touches hidden sources of strength and extends the field of action both for his own keen talents and the redoubled capacity of those under his control.

Gregarious by instinct and habit, all of us like to be led are—accustomed to being led. Our civilization is built on an interdependent organization of individual and specialized abilities. These cut across all phases of contemporary life—religion, politics, education, industry, recreation. We are not happy; and indeed we can hardly exist, we moderns, unless we are together. And since we find ourselves grouped for some particular purpose, then we must have group control; that is to say, leadership, if we are to avoid the failure and futility of undirected and pointless effort.

The problem of the military leader, then, is not one of forcing an unknown or repugnant system on a hostile people, but rather one of providing them with the enlightened leadership which will fulfill their expectations and accomplish the end desired by all.

Halter or whip? This is the real meat of the leadership question. More often than not the whip wins; and it wins for two reasons: first, because it is easy, and second, because it is traditional. It usually takes less effort to make a man do something than to make him want to do it. So the whip cracks, and by virtue of fear and intimidation. authority of position, power of command, ruthless determination, vaulting ambition, grasping selfishness—by one or all of these—the ruler directs the actions and controls the lives of his subjects. It is no accident that the club and scepter are similar in appearance.

"Off with his head!" cried the Queen on the slightest provocation. It was a simple solution; it saved the labor of thought and demonstrated the efficacy of an autocratic system. But it did not contribute, Alice noted, to the happiness of Wonderland.

It is true that such policies may produce results for a time, but they do not constitute that permanent and wise investment in human reaction which we call morale. In the industrial world it is significant that there is little labor trouble in those institutions that are organized on a cooperative basis. But those that follow the coercive school of thought find themselves confronted with an armed truce engendered by suspicion and distrust. They hire the body, but not the spirit.

Human organizations are not so much the reflection of the man at the top as of the many men below him whose efforts are responsible for his position. He retains the full measure of his power only so long as he enjoys their unlimited admiration and respect. For he has given them something that they could not give themselves—namely a common zeal, a sense of importance, an awakened power, an assurance and pride born of past accomplishment, which no future obstacle can daunt. Leader and led haw achieved oneness, and in that amalgamation they have discovered the secret of true success.

Because the soldier has as his ultimate métier war, violence, and sudden death. it was once believed that he should be steeled for his ordeal by a cultivation of the Spartan virtues and the imposition of a Draconian Code. He was formed with his fellows in masses and drilled and drilled and drilled into a robot denied the dangerous privilege of thought. By an accepted system of relentless training in peace he was so toughened in body and spirit that war represented no departure, no confusing transition, from his customary routine. He feared not the enemy less but his own officers more. The danger of death was also outweighed by the spoils of victory; and whatever degree of pride he possessed came from his own valor and exploits rather than from his ardent belief in the policies of his country and his patriotic obligations for its defense.

Today, of course, all this is far away and long ago. In our country, the constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality do not make our military problems easier. People who are born, live, and die in a narrow groove of social and economic inferiority accept military service and traditional military methods with simple and uncomplaining resignation. It is just another episode in a predestined existence forever bounded by regulation and decree. But not our American. He is a sovereign, jealous of his royal prerogatives. The Declaration of Independence is his personal and daily credo. Emotional and responsive, he is likewise a bundle of inconsistencies. He can be a stubborn malcontent or a devoted disciple, faithful to the death. Who leads him to highest purpose must be an honor graduate of the School of Human Understanding.

And what is more, he changes with the times. The soldier found in our divisions of HHS is not identical with the young man of today. This is an age of youth, defiance, self-expression, skepticism—an era of new and greater freedom, These moderns. the citizen soldiers who must meet the emergency of tomorrow, look with level eyes at life. Products of the confusing aftermath of war, they are stark realists. They demand convincing reasons, and they think through to their own conclusions.

Since the world that they have inherited is definitely sick, they are distrustful of the men and the policies responsible for its condition. They approach the possibility of war by frankly asking the stock military questions of what, when, where, how, and why. A disconcerting directness tempers their ideology. Behind the patriotic call of king and country they suspect an oil field, an investment trust, or a special interest. At what point, they ask, does national honor leave off and economic advantage begin?

This is our youth of today, a restless and troubled group, groping in the dark for elusive objects which they believe are there yet somehow escape discovery. Political leadership in peace and military leadership in war must recognize the changed and critical qualities of this human material. It is clearly necessary for leaders to provide liberalized control techniques to meet these altered conditions.

For the modern generation has broken irrevocably with the past. They elect courses in college, attend classes on an optional basis, graduate when they master their fields not when a time contract has expired. Resentful of restraints unless the restraining purpose is plainly justified, they are, nevertheless, a powerful reservoir of military energy capable of being used or wasted by the type of leadership which summons and directs their strength.

In time of peace our army operates with enlisted volunteers and a small corps of professional officers so precisely trained that their duties and reactions-almost their viewpoints-become automatic. But war submerges the regular army in a flood of citizen officers and soldiers unaccustomed for the most part to the niceties and conventions of the profession. Hence the military standards and methods of peace necessarily suffer adjustment when subjected to the urgent demands of war.

Our civilian soldier is an amateur and admits it. Imported to win a war, he is anxious to complete the job and go back home. Saluting, use of the third person in conversation, a meticulous exactness in so many details of his daily life these things he accepts as the peculiar ritual of a new fraternity in which he has just acquired a visitor's membership. Sometimes his tongue is in his cheek. But in the main he conforms, especially when his problems and his sensibilities are properly appreciated by a wise and reasonable direction.

Too often in the army is the recruit or the newcomer subjected to a hazing process. His initial impressions. which the proverb says arc lasting. are made as difficult and embarrassing as possible. This sadistic practice is supposed to teach a man his place. Generally it convinces him that his place is not the army, and more frequently it destroys in him the very qualities essential for his effective participation in the action of his group. This has long been true but is more applicable to the American youth of today than ever before.

Loyalty is indispensable to leadership. This keeping of the faith, this pledge of common understanding and trust, works down as well as up. In the realm of human relations noblesse oblige is more than a pretty phrase. The superior who demands loyalty from his subordinates as if he were a tax collector, gathering his just due, may seize the shadow but he will never grasp the substance. He strives to harvest without planting. Things that. grow cannot be produced by edict. They thrive only when richly nourished and sympathetically cultivated.

The success of the leader is dependent on the actions of his followers. Without them he is but one weak and ineffective individual, crying alone in the wilderness. If his policies quicken their desires, advance their interests. protect their rights, heighten their pride and self-respect—if they accomplish these things, he is observing the principle of halter leadership, and the result is irresistible. The perfect whole is found to be far greater than the sum of its component parts. The leader's position is safe and sure, for he is raised to his height—which is opportunity for service—and securely held there by the ardent devotion of his co-workers. There is ever a large loop of slack in the halter.

The man with the whip may make his mark too. More often than not he is the familiar, accepted figure in history. Over broken heads and hearts he has climbed to power. In his own mind his objectives justify 'the means employed as well as the consequences suffered by his followers. But times and people and methods have changed. The man with the whip is definitely archaic, a victim of the social sciences. Either he must modify his philosophy or else preach his doctrine in totalitarian circles where his methods find enforced acceptance.

Observe those led, and the characteristics of the leader are known. "General Lee to the rear," shouted the Confederate defenders at Spotsylvania as they caught sight of their beloved leader directing a counterattack through the smoke of front-line battle. In this act Lee risked both his personal safety and his reputation. Not every command would tell its general to go back. Some might even volunteer to push him forward. Ordeal by fire is a dangerous test, but a sure one. The epic resistance of the South against overwhelming odds was not made by dugout commanders. Ebbing resources crumpled the armies, but their spirit was never conquered.

Sir John Monash is considered one of the most capable generals produced by the last war. From an obscure beginning he rose to the rank of lieutenant general, commanding an army corps of Australians. One secret of his success may be found in the following account which is taken from his war letters. The Anzacs apparently were having their full share of troubles after landing at Gallipoli, what with Turkish opposition and unfavorable terrain and climate. Your conventional commander, seeking a conventional solution, would have harped on missing buttons, dirty rifles, military courtesy, and violation of uniform regulations. But not Sir John. The moral factor was the important one with him. He writes to his wife: [War Letters of Sir John Monash, edited by Major F. M. Cutlack.]

We allow the men great freedom in dress. I started it and the others followed. You know what "shorts" are. They arc khaki overalls cut down so as to finish four inches above the knee. like a Scotsman's trews. They are worn with short underpants. and with boots and puttees, look really well, the leg showing from two inches below to four inches above the knee and soon getting as brown as the face and hands. I have dressed like that for some weeks with khaki shirt and no collar or tie.

Of course the men don't fight in that kit, but that is how I allow them to run about in their spare time, and they enjoy it immensely.

The gods of spit-and-polish would swoon at this, for it is downright heresy. The ancient citadel of soldierly qualities must indeed be crumbling when men dress for comfort instead of appearance, when a general goes without collar and tie. But somehow it seemed to work. Kindliness, thoughtful consideration, sympathetic interest and understanding-these qualities are more often associated with the corps of chaplains than the combat arms. Yet they must have a connection with successful leadership. For General Monash was being mentioned for the command of an army at the time of the armistice, and the Australians were one of the hardest-hitting armies in the British forces as German reports attested.

It should be understood that this is no thesis for namby-pamby, wishy-washy sentimentality. There is a time to pray and a time to curse. On occasion a hobnailed kick can advance a faltering skirmish line better than a stirring appeal to a man's higher nature. Yet these are exceptions proving the rule. They are effective only as they are infrequently used. They are leadership's spare tire, mounted in an emergency when accepted methods have gone flat and there is no opportunity for deliberate, fundamental corrections at the source.

Little is taught of such leadership in our military instruction. We lay great stress on sound strategical and tactical objectives—a frontier, a city, a river, a ridge line. We are interested in things. The army cannot attack until the railroads deliver so many trains of ammunition, so many tons of rock. But morale is assumed to flow constantly as from a spigot. Sometimes it does, and again it doesn't. When the supply of morale is depleted, the stockage of dépôts and refilling points becomes relatively unimportant. That army cannot win. The spiritual ammunition train is empty.

Our map problems however, fail to emphasize this truth. No student, heedful of the marking committee, would attack a corps with a single division. But if his force had superb morale and if the enemy had none, any real leader would succeed either on paper or in war, because he had the high courage and the prophet's vision to estimate the spiritual as well as the material situation.

It may be difficult to evaluate intangible factors and to establish their coefficient with the physical. But is this any reason for ignoring them altogether, especially when they outweigh so definitely all other considerations? The map-problem room of today becomes the command post of tomorrow. So long as military students are trained to think in terms of numbers and size alone, we shall have an abundance of commanders but no real leaders. For they will have no course in the tactics and technique of moral forces.

Too often and too long has the human factor been allowed to shift for itself. It is in this field, more than any other that, by self-inflicted wounds, we weaken our potential power and fail to produce genuine leaders. If we think of psychology at all in military human relations, it is, in most cases, a warped and outmoded psychology which does not fit at all the problems of leadership of today.

In the end, the methods of leadership are good to the exact extent that they encourage human devotion and co-operative response. Nor is there conflict between discipline and morale. Without discipline an army is a mob; without morale it is a hollow shell. Possessing both, it is invincible. Your stereotyped commander will insist on discipline though he lose morale. The true leader of enduring fame seeks rather the spirit of his men, knowing that when he has this he has all.

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