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Blast From The Past – What Kind of Leader Are You?

We’ve published this leadership model a few times. The first time was in 2012 and It’s still worthy of debate today.

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 it’s still a viable model?

5 Responses to “Blast From The Past – What Kind of Leader Are You?”

  1. T says:

    Maybe we should take German military advice with a grain of salt, or even a pile of it. Germany has lost every war they’ve fought since their unification in 1871 and their mythological leadership accumen largely comes from the memoirs of ex-Wermacht officers puffing themselves up to get jobs in West Germany after the war. Clausewitz gets a pass because prior to the unification of Germany, at least the Prussians won wars.

    • Tom says:


    • sunny says:

      66 Million citizens of whom 13-18 Millions served as soldiers went against 40 Million soldiers – different time episodes aside.
      They went against a superior industry with all the sanctions applied since WW1 – so for 20 years the mil industry was crippled and simply did not had enough resources.
      Despite Leadership Concepts, huge intellectual achievements contributed to the partwise success: Without the rail and logistics, without the high% of high-degreee educations, without all the material science and engineering, they wouldnt have came so far.
      I see the single only nation capable of pulling of not one but two wars against superior enemys, from all sides, against long term, with inferior capabilites (less resources, less agrocultur areas etc.) and still be a world leader today (G7,G8,G20, second in NATO after the US, 4 biggest world economy with only 80million citizens).

      But go ahead, tell me more about the A and H Bomb, or the Gemini Program. Seems like you needed some Braun to support your Heisenberg to ever get so far.

  2. EzGoingKev says:

    “In the American model, the best and brightest take command.”

    Tell me how we ended up with Milley then?

  3. Jarrett Schulz says:

    The binary solution set that pits command vs. staff officer roles does not serve the Army well. The Army needs good commanders, and good staff officers. General Scales had it right.