Wednesday, 14 October 2015


To be an effective leader, certain qualities are needed. The first is to practise what one preaches. Failure so to do provokes contempt and non-compliance with the leader’s directives. A few historical examples will illustrate this:

In 1688, King James II of England took fright, failed to fight the invading William of Orange, and instead fled to France. By contrast, during the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great personally led his men at the critical Battle of Kunersdorf in 1759, was wounded, and narrowly escaped death because the tobacco tin in his pocket stopped a bullet!

Napoleon behaved similarly. At the Battle of Lodi in 1796, although commander, he assumed the role of a corporal and manned a gun, thereby acquiring his nickname of “The Little Corporal”. Even after he became Emperor, Napoleon would always eat the same food as his soldiers.

In addition to enforcing discipline without fear of favour, an effective leader must motivate his subordinates. Thus, after every battle, Napoleon would visit each unit and ask the men who was the bravest of their number. Having discovered who it was, he immediately decorated, promoted and awarded him a pension. Similarly, in 1882, Field Marshal Wolesley introduced a system of accelerated promotion by merit, instead of seniority in the British Army. When this caused protests, he replied “there are very few people of ability in the world and, of those, only a tiny proportion join the British Army. When I come across such a person, I therefore promote him!” Similarly, Stalin promoted General Zhukov, because the latter would contradict him when he was wrong.

During the Second World War, Stalin prohibited Soviet soldiers from surrendering and ordered that, if any did so, their families would be imprisoned. When his own son Yakov Dzhugasvili, was captured by German forces in 1941, Stalin practised what he preached: Yakov’s wife was imprisoned and Stalin refused German offers to release his son as part of a prisoner exchange, who was then killed in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

In 1789, after the outbreak of the French Revolution, King Louis XVI allowed his relatives to leave the country (L’Emigration) thus destroying public confidence in the stability of the monarchy. In 1940, Winston Churchill acted very differently. He ordered the British to resist Germany, in spite of the Fall of France. It was then reported that some of his relatives were leaving the country. Churchill immediately used his powers to prevent this publicly. By contrast, the last Shah of Iran failed to prevent corruption by his relatives, especially his sister, Princess Ashraf, thereby discrediting his rĂ©gime.

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