What Kind of Leader Are You?

In the mid-1800s a Prussian Field Marshal named Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke developed a means to evaluate his officers.

Smart & Lazy – I make them my Commanders because they make the right thing happen but find the easiest way to accomplish the mission.
Smart & Energetic – I make them my General Staff Officers because they make intelligent plans that make the right things happen.
Dumb & Lazy – There are menial tasks that require an officer to perform that they can accomplish and they follow orders without causing much harm.
Dumb & Energetic – These are dangerous and must be eliminated. They cause things to happen but the wrong things so cause trouble.

I’ve also seen this attributed to various German Army leaders beginning in the inter-war years and seems to convey prevailing thinking. It boils leadership down into its simplest form and measures the leader on two axes. Intelligence (competence) and industriousness or lack thereof.

As Chief of the Army High Command, the Anti-Nazi Gen Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933. In it, he proposed a classification scheme for military leaders.

‘I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.’

Remember, in the German model, the most promising go to the General Staff for grooming. In the American model, the best and brightest take command. Considering that, do you think its still a viable model?

14 Responses to “What Kind of Leader Are You?”

  1. todd says:

    So would the American model simply have commanders in the top right and staff officers in the other blocks?

    • Fishstick says:

      No. The American model would have Staff Officers in all four blocks and Commanders in a vague ven diagram circle in the middle – For some reason everyone ‘deserves’ to get a chance. It’s the same bull$#*! as giving all kids trophys for competing instead of an actual accomplishment. Unfortunately, in our profession we risk lives instead of self-esteem. The “Dangerous” are only removed after they have had their full opportunity to incite chaos and destroy units. The “Supervise” are only removed after they hit Colonel or LTC due only to ‘restrictions’ on personnel numbers.

  2. trailmix says:

    interesting. i’ve always heard this as the hersey-blanchard situational leadership model. it was adapted in outdoor recreation and focused on commitment and capability. i guess they were 50 years too late.

  3. Aaron says:

    How do you determine who the best and brightest are, and keep them, as many have and many continue to punch their ticket at 0-3 and get out. Beca

  4. Mateo says:

    “Remember, in the German model, the most promising go to the General Staff for grooming. In the American model, the best and brightest take command.”

    What I understand von Hammerstein-Equord to have been advocating was getting smart but lazy field officers into positions of command as quickly as possible and letting smart and energetic field officers languish (so to speak) on staffs.

    • SSD says:

      They didn’t languish on the General Staff. It was the quickest route to promotion and learning the big picture.

  5. majrod says:

    Don’t buy the premise that the best and brightest get command.

    Our officer model prioritizes command experience and specific jobs for promotion. That’s good but many compete for those jobs to get promoted instead of the focus being on serving the country and the soldier. We also suffer from a stifling atmosphere that breeds risk aversion. (why do you think our troops wore every piece of budy armor imaginable no matter the mission?)

    Hence the “punch your ticket” phenomena and an unhealthy “what’s best for my career” approach.

    Don’t believe rank was always the big motivator it is today or should be the primary measure of success. I believe MANY of our leader and moral failings can be attributed to this corporate stick your finger in the air and go with the flow approach. Consider how often you see senior officers disagree with policies that are clearly detrimental to the service (one CAN disagree in a professional manner).

    • Fishstick says:

      What if we were paid based on our efficiency, effectiveness and real value generated instead of our “Rank.”

  6. HalP says:

    Thanks for sharing SSD, very intriguing. Regarding ‘the American model’ I would say with the others that best & brightest are not necessarily in command. Energy helps you go far in your career field – but smarts help too. But it really depends on what the person is shooting for – they can be good commanders, but if they’re focused on advancing to the highest possible position, it could be dangerous for anyone under their command.

    But I don’t know if ‘lazy’ is the proper word to use here – at least in today’s context. How many good commanders have you seen as ‘lazy’ as the word we use today? Just because they’re not as ‘energetic’ doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard or don’t care – (well, we care for the important stuff anyways).

    I’m definitely on the ‘lazy’ side of the model.

  7. Desert Lizard says:

    I prefer von Moltke’s model over the current Americal model. The absolute brightest need to go to the staff positions. These staff positions steer the commander using the information they feed him/her. By misreading or misunderstanding the intel that comes, the staff and behind-the-scenes person can give bad info to the commander or filter out important info from the commander. Staff most definitely has to be the smartest in the room. The qualities the commander must have are discernment, cunning, and wisdom.

  8. JohnnyB says:

    I think the better word for “lazy” might be “efficient.” Consider those “bright and energetic” who go the staff for “grooming.” This grooming should be assumed to be a time when the energetic have that energy honed, focused, and habitualized. Ideally, the end result is efficiency – the ability to take the complicated and complex and diminutize them into succinct skills. Those few who already have this quality may skip the ‘seasoning.’ Those who can never habitualize efficiency may remain in planning/support.

  9. Juliette says:

    “Give the hardest task to the laziest man, watch what they do. They will find the easiest way to do” it. Instruct other people and what they did.”

    Personally I like the model. It certainly gets the chaff off very quickly. Might even be ruthless but truthful.

  10. Mongo says:

    I understand both and agree with some about the focus of officers only looking to promote themselves and not lead by example. This also holds true for senior enlisted. We have far too many high ranking officers and this bogs down the machine… They change policy to have their own stamp, therefore not really value added. The SOF community seems to do a better job of grooming, but cool guy syndrome runs a bit rampant… Some service components more than others, but with a pin on your chest some forget it takes a team and on that team isn’t always just shooters.

    I know this seems a bit off subject, but it really isn’t… We as Americans are too self important now, so doing the right thing has turned into, do the right thing for me.

  11. A.Lentz says:

    i recently heard this on a local radio station. tracked it down,

    Clausewitz work was (though not entirely his own) in a way the setting for the next set of wars the world would see, indeed there is definitely a lingering use of his models in todays modern military theory..though i did really think McChrystals recent video was thought provoking.