The right man in charge

(To Andrea Sapori)

We have seen how much the concept of teamwork must be based on 4 essential pillars. Now we need to understand the absolute value of having theright man in command.

By way of example, I would like to compare two figures from the same military department: Generals LeMay and Warden of the USAF.

John Warden (following photo) was one of the most important soldiers of the second half of the 20th century.

He was among the creators and developers of Checkmate, a facility for advanced tactical and strategic studies within the greatest war machine in the history of the world: the United States Air Force.

Air campaign planner by Desert Storm, reformulated the very concept of combat and aerial bombardment, adapting it to technologies stealth, global positioning, electronic warfare, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences). His planning methods are studied in every aviation academy in the world.

According to those who knew him personally, it is man of exceptional military intelligence. Equipped with extraordinary analytical skills, amply demonstrated in over 30 years of service, and then in command of a structure of exceptional war importance, he retired a few years ago with the rank of colonel, when at least a state command was hypothesized for him greater, if not even more. Some have wondered "why" (among others Tom Clancy).

Those who knew him "in the field" talk about his inability to understand the value of hierarchy: he didn't understand its intrinsic managerial importance. During his lectures he is said to have used phrases like "if only you could understand... try to follow me... let me explain...", including his superiors. Any hierarchical structure (military but, in my opinion, not only) does not work this way. 

"If I am your superior, explain to me in the simplest and most direct way the things you have in mind, and I will tell you to proceed or stop. If, however, I am your subordinate, explain to me in the simplest and most direct way what you want me to do. I'll need it, I'll ask you to tell me how and when." That's all.

Although he was a brilliant man, Warden did not understand that this way of acting first eliminated him from the operational structure and then, in fact, ended his career. By not following the procedures and the chain of command he essentially made himself "invisible": he became what is called "an empty uniform".

Once again, let's remember this: hierarchy, discipline, training, and the consequent motivation, are tools, they are force multipliers, they are not chains and/or constraints.

Curtis lemay (opening and following photos) was the most important soldier of the 20th century, and perhaps not only that. Air force commander in Europe first and in the Pacific, together with British Marshal Harris he planned the destruction of Germany and then, alone, that of Japan. His method was mathematical and relatively simple: given a certain number of bombers, with a given load capacity and type of ammunition, it takes "x" number of missions to destroy a given number of square kilometers of enemy territory. Missions that needed to be performed. That's all.

He spoke very little. He usually nodded or made some sort of grunt if he didn't agree with whoever was presenting the data. His mind was hyper focused on the results obtained and to be obtained. The losses were part of the planning already contemplated. This probably made it the commander most hated by his pilots in the history of world aeronautics.

We know of only one time in which he made a speech lasting a few seconds (Robert McNamara, who was an officer on his staff, spoke about it). A pilot whose bombing altitude had been lowered during a debriefing, asked who he was the idiot bastard who had given the order. During the mission you had lost two men hit by anti-aircraft fire, which had become deadly at that altitude. In the sidereal silence that fell in the room it was heard "It was me. The data from previous missions shows that we are not destroying the enemy's structures: we are too imprecise, we drop from too high. We have to go down. I know very well what this entails, but we have to do it. Tomorrow I will fly your plane, and you will be my second. That's all".

Even though no one almost ever heard the gen speak. LeMay, everyone knew perfectly well who he was and what he wanted: the exact opposite of Gen. Warden.

Once the war was over, to Gen. LeMay was entrusted with the creation of the SAC (Strategic Air Command), whose mission was the destruction of the USSR yesterday, and of all potential enemies of the USA today. He was definitely the right man for this.

For a time it was operationally the human being with the greatest power of life and death that ever existed (and J.F.K. - following photo - knows something about it too, I'm afraid).

In my life (military and civilian) I have had the honor and privilege of being under the orders of excellent commanders. None of them were my friends. Perhaps it was luck, which in some contexts made the difference.

A commander commands. Stop. He knows everything about you (what he is interested in knowing obviously), he takes it into account, but he has a single purpose and a single motivation: complete the mission, the task assigned to him.

A commander who knows how to do his job will save your life, even if he will never be your friend. We'll get over it.

Alessandro Magno he was worshiped almost like a god by his soldiers, a very different concept. An extraordinary strategist, he knew how to use the phalanx like and better than his father Philip, his inventor, uniting it with the cavalry that he himself commanded. He did it in an absolutely visible way, always leading by example. Sometimes too much.

His aura of a demigod allowed absolute relationships with his men, despite knowing that for this reason he had to always be in front, the first fighter. He wanted the best and gave his best. Despite his legendary greatness, after 12 years of almost continuous campaigning, Alexander fell victim to his own daring. His fall should be studied as much as his victories, for therein lies a very important lesson: we need to understand very quickly when withdrawing and reconsidering is the smartest thing to do, before events take over our decisions and actions.

I would suggest to aspiring generals, both military and non-military (especially the "non"), to study with great commitment what theCommand Art: it depends on their fortune and on the departments they command (small or large it makes no difference).

All over the world, in every field and at every level, men who have served in the armed forces are increasingly called upon to teach how to manage (if not directly manage) civilian companies and structures. Take a look, if you want, at the boards of directors of French companies for example, at how many of their executives have served in the armed forces, especially in the Legion (in my opinion the best light infantry unit in the world).

If you are a sports fan, check out how many coaches they use personal trainer e mental coach who have served particularly in special forces or elite units.

In certain contexts the military method turns out to be the most rational and operational. However, it will always be the individual's desire to work as a team that will develop the concept and ensure that it becomes a cohesive group. Why "The chain is only as strong as its weakest link".

Photo: USAF/web