For today’s post I decided to tell you about the books I have been reading recently. Whilst I have an interest in military history many of you may not. However there is a great deal that can be learned from such books which can be applied to the business world. Leadership, management, rapidly changing situations, complex analysis, the decision making process, stress management, flexibility, manpower issues, brutal and relentless competitors, international partnerships, these books have got the lot.
It is incredible how much you can learn about one topic by looking at it from a completely different perspective. For example when I was learning about command and leadership I read a wide array of books from Sir Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography to Duncan Bannatyne’s ‘Anyone can do it’.
So here are is a list of the books I have recently read and what can be taken from them.
If you have any other favourites, please let me know!!
Antony Beevor’s account of the Ardennes offensive, known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge describes in detail the last ditch attempts of a deluded Hitler to split the allied forces as they approached the western border of Germany. Although surrounded by ‘yes men’ by this point he still believed that if he could split the allies their advance would fail, allowing him to switch focus to the looming Soviet threat to the East. To an extent he was right, however the greatest threat to allied unity was not from the still ferocious Wehrmacht and evil SS but instead from the clashes between the British and American senior officers. The book highlights how arrogant and egotistical leaders can create significant issues to their organisations, how rapid problem solving and initiative can lead to success and how leaders need to be in a position to effectively react to changing situations.
Written by the bestselling author of the Sharpe novels, Waterloo is Bernard Cornwell’s first work of non-fiction. In hour by hour detail he describes how on the 18th June, 1815 the armies of France, Britain and Prussia descended upon a quiet valley south of Brussels, not far from the Ardennes. He also describes in detail the previous three days during which Napoleon had beaten the British at Quatre-Bras and the Prussians at Ligny. The Allies were in retreat. By the end of 18th June, Napoleon was once again close to prevailing, using the same tactics which Hitler would attempt to employ 130 years later. However as Cornwell shows through the letters and diaries of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, as well as the ordinary officers and soldiers, this was not to be the case. The key lessons are how until a task is completed its success is not guaranteed and how a leader must be prepared to change tactics dependant on the situation in order to seize the initiative and claim victory.
Operation Barbarossa in 1941 saw Hitler’s forces use the Blitzkrieg tactics which had served them so well in Western Europe against the Soviet Union. After initial massive advances they became bogged down against resurgent Soviet forces as well as the harsh weather which had defeated Napoleon a century before. Clark’s work describes the greatest land battle of all time, building from the destruction of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad to the conclusion of the Battle of Kursk later that year. Starting on 5th July 1943, this epic confrontation epitomised ‘total war’ and was characterised by hideous excess and outrageous atrocities. This was the last offensive Germany launched to the East, meaning the remainder of the war was a continuous strategic withdrawal in the face of a vengeful and ferocious enemy. The key lessons revolve around how two leaders approach a problem. Hitler ignoring his key advisors to his own detriment and Stalin from a similar start learning to trust his subordinates to carry out his strategic aims with minimal interference.
Hugh McManners, who himself fought in the Falklands War and witnessed its brutality first hand has compiled an excellent oral history of the campaign from the perspective of military personnel and civilians on both sides. The book covers in vivid detail all of the key events and highlights both the failings and the successes of what was the turning point in modern British history. On the one hand, it was considered to be the ‘last of the great Elizabethan adventures’, with the Royal Navy pulling off an incredible feat of maritime warfare, under the most appallingly risky circumstances. On the other hand, it was the first war of the modern age, using satellite surveillance, computer-driven missiles, night observation devices, and all the technologically developed power of modern weaponry. It was also a conflict that could so easily have gone terribly wrong for British forces. Instead, it was a resounding military success. It highlights how some leaders stay too far from where they are needed and others get too close and the associated problems for both. It also shows how deputies need to be ready to step up to fill their superior’s position at a moment’s notice and how important logistical considerations are in all operations.
The rescue of the 340 000 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk is seared into the British psyche. However the fact that less people know that 140 000 of those soldiers were French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch shows how little we really know. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore explores the stories of those men from all nations who were involved in the shocking and rapidly moving campaign in 1939-40. In order to get those men back to the beaches in the face of a relentless German onslaught, a tenacious and valiant defence was required by the British and those of their allies who continued to fight. The book highlights the significant operational problems that can occur when partner organisations have opposing aims and senior leadership fails. Sebag-Montefiore also describes how Hitler’s halt order for three days allowed the allies to withdraw and organise their evacuation. This shows how not removing your competition when you get the chance can lead to them removing you further down the line. As well as the senior leadership, the book details the efforts of the soldiers, the junior officers and NCO’s and shows how tenaciously they fought in the face of overwhelming odds and likely death or capture. It shows how important inspirational leadership at all levels of an organisation is and how leadership development is vital at all times.
Hope this has been useful, have a good day!!!