Leading from the front

Leading from the front

Autobiographies and diaries seldom make good management texts, but there are a few exceptions. The best is still Alfred Sloan's My Years with General Motors. Another is the unexpurgated diary of Alan Brooke covering the Second World War.

General Sir Alan Brooke, later Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke, was appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff – Britain’s top soldier – in December 1941. Thereafter, he worked very closely with Churchill; there were few days during which they did not spend time together – often the notorious 10.30pm meeting that seldom ended before 2.00am. What a team: Churchill, leader extraordinaire; Brooke, manager extraordinaire.This diary’s contribution to business literature is to illustrate clearly the distinction between leadership and management.

Today there is an increasing tendency to muddle the two, to treat leadership as though it is some superior form of management. ‘You’ve mastered management, now become a leader’ exhorts one business school’s advertisement. Brooke’s example shows this to be nonsense: leadership and management are entirely different things; leadership is no more a superior form of management than a potato is a superior form of cabbage.

Brooke was a highly cerebral, flinty Ulsterman with prodigious energy, held in great awe and respect but – as far as the reader can tell – little widespread affection. By contrast the intuitive and emotional Churchill was a greatly loved leader.

Emotional leadership
And that is the essence: leadership has to be emotional; a successful leader must capture the hearts of the led, must get his or her followers to suspend their critical faculties and just follow. Management, on the other hand, has to be cerebral; management is all about the best allocation and proper employment of scarce resources to achieve agreed goals.

In Brooke’s case the scarcest resource was not war material but high quality commanders.

A recurrent theme of his diary is the identification and promotion of talent and the sacking of poor performers: ‘I had to tell him that his soldiering days are over’ is the way he often put it.

D-Day account
Perhaps the most telling, almost charming, contrast occurs on D-Day itself; on 5 June 1944, Churchill is down in Portsmouth trying to board a cruiser so he can personally take part in the invasion; Brooke spends the day chairing the routine selection board in London. The rational Brooke recognised that the die had been cast and at that stage his presence would just be a nuisance. Churchill intuitively felt that as prime minister he should be in the vanguard; only the king was able to dissuade him by threatening to come too.

The diary also illustrates another key attribute of good management – willingness to delegate authority as well as responsibility.

This is something that Churchill seemed to find difficult. He loved telling army corps commanders – even down to divisional level – how to run their battles. Brooke, by contrast, delegated authority and then seldom meddled – but was ruthless in holding the recipient accountable for results.

With management ability and leadership coming from such different wellsprings, it is rare to find both qualities in one person; indeed, leaders and managers often find each other exasperating. Churchill and Brooke were not exceptions.

In the diary Brooke comes across as a man with no wish for even a square inch of charisma, with contempt for flamboyance or any kind of ‘film star behaviour’, as he put it.

Formidably clever and energetic
He also comes across as a formidably clever and energetic man who never skimped his homework and thought about things with great rigour. He must have been a scary boss; it comes as no surprise to learn that his subordinates called him Colonel Shrapnel.

Churchill, with his intuitive mind generating masses of often dotty schemes, frequently drove Brooke almost to distraction. The analytical Brooke in turn reduced Churchill to tears of frustration on more than one occasion.

Yet Brooke admired Churchill immensely and Churchill valued Brooke above all others. As one commentator recently pointed out, for all their mutual exasperation Brooke never resigned and Churchill never fired him. A charismatic leader who lacks a cerebral alter ego almost invariably ends up in disaster, as we have seen so many times in business.

We are lucky Churchill had Brooke but we are also lucky Hitler – among the most charismatic leaders of all time – lacked a Brooke and only had the supine Keitel as his CIGS equivalent.

The diary’s final entry is for 31 August, 1945, the last day of the last month of the war. Brooke retired as CIGS soon after, and was replaced by Montgomery. By most accounts, and perhaps even by his own admission, Montgomery made a poor CIGS; his ego, his selfishness and his arrogance fostering the kind of factionalism and infighting that can so often be disastrous in a top management team.

An assessment of the book
The editors of the diary have included useful thumbnail sketches of a few of the key participants – British, American and Soviet.

Even so, it cries out for much more annotation; many personalities and situations come and go, with the poor reader left largely in the dark.

Latham and Matthews set a very high standard when they edited Pepys diary, a standard that Danchev and Todman do not reach.

Let us hope that the next edition remedies this.

War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke is edited by Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman and is available from Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Go to AccountancyAge.com’s bookstore to purchase a copy.

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