Preparing Leaders

During the First World War, Major C. A. Bach gave an address to the student officers at Fort Sheridan. Although the address was delivered to his rising military officers, it is such a remarkable dissertation on leadership that I believe the principles will work beautifully for business or any form of leadership. I hope you enjoy my summary of the key takeaways: 

In a few days you will receive commissions as officers. These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers. They will place you in a position where you can become leaders if you possess the proper attributes. You must make good, not so much with the men over you as with the men under you. Leadership is a composite of a number of qualities seen below:

Self Confidence: Comes from exact knowledge and the ability to impart that knowledge. To lead, you must know. The officer should know more about paperwork than his first sergeant and company clerk put together. He should know more about messing than his mess sergeant; more about diseases of the horse than his troop farrier. He should be at least as good a shot as any man in his company. 

Moral Ascendency: To gain and maintain this ascendency you must have self-control, physical vitality, and endurance and moral force. You must have yourself so well in hand that, even though in battle you may be scared stiff, you will never show fear. If at such times you "fly off the handle" you have no business to be in charge of men. Be an example to your men! Live the kind of life you would have them lead, and you will be surprised to see the number that will imitate you. 

Self Sacrifice: You will give, give, give all the time. You will give of yourself physically, for the longest hours. The hardest work and the greatest responsibility fall on the captain. He is the first man up in the morning and last man in at night. He works while others sleep. Give of yourself mentally, in sympathy and appreciation for the troubles of men in your charge.  

Paternalism: Manifests itself in a watchful care for the comfort and welfare of those in your charge. You must make sure they have food to eat before you think of your own. That each has a bed before you consider sleep. You must conserve their strength not demanding needless exertion or useless labor. By doing these things, you are breathing life into what would be otherwise a mere machine. You are creating a soul in your organization that will make the mass respond to you as though it were one man. When this happens you will wake up one day and the tables will have turned. Instead of looking out for them, they will be looking out for you. 

Fairness: You cannot treat all men alike. A punishment that would be dismissed by one man with a shrug of the shoulders is mental anguish for another. Study your men as carefully as a surgeon studies a difficult case. Hand-in-hand with fairness in awarding punishment walks fairness in giving credit. When one of your men has accomplished an especially creditable piece of work, see that he gets the proper award. Turn heaven and earth upside down to get it for him.  

Initiative and Decision: When an emergency arises, certain men calmly give instant orders which later on, on analysis, prove to be, if not exactly the right thing, very nearly the right thing to have done. The man who is ready is the man who has prepared himself. He has studied beforehand the possible situations that might arise. When confronted with an emergency he is ready to meet it. Any reasonable order in an emergency is better than no order. The situation is there. Meet it! It is better to do something and do wrong than to hesitate, hunt around for the right thing to do, and wind up doing nothing at all. Men have no confidence in an officer that doesn't know his own mind. 

Personal Dignity: Be the friend of your men, but do not become their intimate. Your men should stand in awe of you, not fear! If you are worthy of their loyalty and respect and devotion they will surely give you friendship and favor without asking for it.  

Courage: Is firmness of spirit, that moral backbone which, while fully appreciating the danger involved, nevertheless goes on with the undertaking. Bravery is physical, while courage is moral and mental. Courage enables you to adhere to without faltering to a determined course of action. In some cases, you will be strongly tempted to change your orders.  Don't do it until it is clearly manifested that your first orders were radically wrong.  Every time you change your orders without obvious reason you weaken your authority and impair the confidence of your men.  Have the courage to stand by your order and see it through.  

Lastly, if you aspire to leadership, I would urge you to study men. Get under their skin; find out what's inside. Some men are quite different from what they appear to be on the surface.  Determine the working of their mind. Know your men, know your business, know yourself!


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