This is the soldier’s analysis of how to be a leader—the farewell instructions given to the student-officers at the Second Training Camp at Fort Sheridan by Maj C. A. Bach, a quiet, unassuming Army officer acting as an instructor at the camp. This address to the men commissioned as officers in his battalion should be read by every young officer in the Army and every private soldier and noncommissioned officer as well. It is the best composition on the subject of “Leadership” ever recorded.
The reserve officers in Major Bach’s battalion were so carried away by the speech that they besieged the major for copies that they could take with them into the Army and re-read. The Waco (Tex.) Daily Times Herald, hearing of the great interest aroused, secured a copy of the address and, with the approval of Col James R. Ryan, published the speech in full on Sunday, 27 January 1918.
Major Bach entered military life through the National Guard, going out as an enlisted man in the Thirteenth Minnesota Infantry. When the regiment was sent to the Philippines young Bach went along as a sergeant. He was promoted to a lieutenancy in the Thirty-sixth United States Volunteer Infantry. He then went into the Regular Establishment as a first lieutenant in the Seventh Cavalry and advanced grade by grade to his majority.
In a short time each of you men will control the lives of a certain number of other men. You will have in your charge loyal but untrained citizens, who look to you for instruction and guidance. Your word will be their law. Your most casual remark will be remembered. Your mannerism will be aped. Your clothing, your carriage, your vocabulary, your manner of command will be imitated.
When you join your organization you will find there a willing body of men who ask from you nothing more than the qualities that will command their respect, their loyalty, and their obedience. They are perfectly ready and eager to follow you so long as you can convince them that you have those qualities. When the time comes that they are satisfied you do not possess them you might as well kiss yourself goodbye. Your usefulness in that organization is at an end.
From the standpoint of society, the world may be divided into leaders and followers. The professions have their leaders, the financial world has its leaders. We have religious leaders, and political leaders, and society leaders. In all this leadership it is difficult, if not impossible to separate from the element of pure leadership that selfish element of personal gain or advantage to the individual, without which such leadership would lose its value.
It is in the military service only, where men freely sacrifice their lives for a faith, where men are willing to suffer and die for the right or the prevention of a great wrong, that we can hope to realize leadership in its most exalted and disinterested sense. Therefore, when I say leadership, I mean military leadership.
In a few days the great mass of you men will receive commissions as officers. These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers. They will place you in a position where you can become leaders if you possess the proper attributes. But you must make good—not so much with the men over you as with the men under you.
Men must and will follow into battle officers who are not leaders, but the driving power behind these men is not enthusiasm but discipline. They go with doubt and trembling, and with an awful fear tugging at their heartstrings that prompts the unspoken question, “What will he do next?”
Such men obey the letter of their orders but no more. Of devotion to their commander, of exalted enthusiasm which scorns personal risk, of their self-sacrifice to ensure his personal safety, they know nothing. Their legs carry them forward because their brain and their training tell them they must go. Their spirit does not go with them.
Great results are not achieved by cold, passive, unresponsive soldiers. They don’t go very far and they stop as soon as they can. Leadership not only demands but receives the willing, unhesitating, unfaltering obedience and loyalty of other men; and a devotion that will cause them, when the time comes, to follow their uncrowned king to hell and back again if necessary.
You will ask yourselves: “Of just what, then, does leadership consist? What must I do to become a leader? What are the attributes of leadership, and how can I cultivate them?” Leadership is a composite of a number of qualities. Among the most important I would list self-confidence, moral ascendency, self-sacrifice, paternalism, fairness, initiative, decision, dignity, courage.
Let me discuss these with you in detail. Self-confidence results, first, from exact knowledge; second, the ability to impart that knowledge; and, third, the feeling of superiority over others that naturally follows. All these give the officer poise. To lead, you must know—you may bluff all your men some of the time, but you can’t do it all the time.
Men will not have confidence in an officer unless he knows his business, and he must know it from the ground up. The officer should know more about paper work than his first sergeant and company clerk put together; he should know more about messing than his mess sergeant; more about diseases of the horse than his troop farrier. He should be at least as good a shot as any man in his company.
If the officer does not know, and demonstrates the fact that he does not know, it is entirely human for the soldier to say to himself, “To hell with him. He doesn’t know as much about this as I do,” and calmly disregard the instructions received. There is no substitute for accurate knowledge. Become so well informed that men will hunt you up to ask questions that your brother officers will say to one another, “Ask Smith—he knows.”
And not only should each officer know thoroughly the duties of his own grade, but he should study those of the two grades next above him. A twofold benefit attaches to this. He prepares himself for duties which may fall to his lot at any time during battle; he further gains a broader viewpoint which enables him to appreciate the necessity for the issuance of orders and join more intelligently in their execution.
Not only must the officer know, but he must be able to put what he knows into grammatical, interesting, forceful English. He must learn to stand on his feet and speak without embarrassment. I am told that in British training camps student officers are required to deliver 10-minute talks on any subject they may choose. That is excellent practice. For to speak clearly one must think clearly, and clear, logical thinking expresses itself in definite, positive orders.
While self-confidence is the result of knowing more than your men, moral ascendancy over them is based upon your belief that you are the better man. To gain and maintain this ascendancy you must have self-control, physical vitality and endurance and moral force. You must have yourself so well in hand that, even though in battle you be scared stiff, you will never show fear. For if you by so much as a hurried movement or a trembling of the hand, or a change of expression, or a hasty order hastily revoked, indicate your mental condition it will be reflected in your men in a far greater degree.
In garrison or camp many instances will arise to try your temper and wreck the sweetness of your disposition. If at such times you “fly off the handle” you have no business to be in charge of men. For men in anger say and do things that they almost invariably regret afterward. An officer should never apologize to his men; also an officer should never be guilty of an act for which his sense of justice tells him he should apologize.
Another element in gaining moral ascendancy lies in the possession of enough physical vitality and endurance to withstand the hardships to which you and your men are subjected, and a dauntless spirit that enables you not only to accept them cheerfully but to minimize their magnitude. Make light of your troubles, belittle your trials, and you will help vitally to build up within your organization an esprit whose value in time of stress cannot be measured.
Moral force is the third element in gaining moral ascendancy. To exert moral force you must live clean, you must have sufficient brain-power to see the right and the will to do right. Be an example to your men. An officer can be a power for good or a power for evil. Don’t preach to them—that will be worse than useless. Live the kind of life you would have them lead, and you will be surprised to see the number that will imitate you.
A loud-mouthed, profane captain who is careless of his personal appearance will have a loud-mouthed, profane, dirty company. Remember what I tell you. Your company will be the reflection of yourself. If you have a rotten company it will be because you are a rotten captain. Self-sacrifice is essential to leadership. You will give, give all the time. You will give yourself physically, for the longest hours, the hardest work and the greatest responsibility is the lot of the captain. He is the first man up in the morning and the last man in at night. He works while others sleep.
You will give yourself mentally, in sympathy and appreciation for the troubles of men in your charge. This one’s mother has died, and that one has lost all his savings in a bank failure. They may desire help, but more than anything else they desire sympathy. Don’t make the mistake of turning such men down with the statement that you have troubles of your own, for every time that you do, you knock a stone out of the foundation of your house.
Your men are your foundation, and your house leadership will tumble about your ears unless it rests securely upon them. Finally, you will give of your own slender financial resources. You will frequently spend your money to conserve the health and well being of your men or to assist them when in trouble. Generally you get your money back. Very infrequently you must charge it to profit and loss.
When I say that paternalism is essential to leadership, I use the term in its better sense. I do not now refer to that form of paternalism, which robs men of initiative, self-reliance, and self-respect. I refer to the paternalism that manifests itself in a watchful care for the comfort and welfare of those in your charge.
Soldiers are much like children. You must see that they have shelter, food, and clothing, the best that your utmost efforts can provide. You must be far more solicitous of their comfort than of your own. You must see that they have food to eat before you think of your own; that they have each as good a bed as can be provided before you consider where you will sleep. You must look after their health. You must conserve their strength by not demanding needless exertion or useless labor. And by doing all these things you are breathing life into what would be otherwise a mere machine. You are creating a soul in your organization that will make the mass respond to you as though it were one man. And that is esprit.
And when your organization has this esprit you will wake up some morning and discover that the tables have been turned; that instead of your constantly looking out for them they have, without even a hint from you, taken up the task of looking out for you. You will find that a detail is always there to see that your tent, if you have one, is promptly pitched; that the most and the cleanest bedding is brought to your tent; that from some mysterious source two eggs have been added to your supper when no one else has any; that an extra man is helping your men give your horse a super-grooming; that your wishes are anticipated; that every man is Johnny-on-the-spot. And then you have arrived.
Fairness is another element without which leadership can neither be built up nor maintained. There must be first that fairness which treats all men justly. I do not say alike, for you cannot treat all men alike—that would be assuming that all men are cut from the same piece; that there is no such thing as individuality or a personal equation.
You cannot treat all men alike; a punishment that would be dismissed by one man with a shrug of the shoulders is mental anguish for another. A company commander who for a given offense has a standard punishment that applies to all is either too indolent or too stupid to study the personality of his men. In his case, justice is certainly blind.
Study your men as carefully as a surgeon studies a difficult case. And when you are sure of your diagnosis apply the remedy. And remember that you apply the remedy to effect a cure, not merely to see the victim squirm. It may be necessary to cut deep, but when you are satisfied as to your diagnosis don’t be divided from your purpose by any false sympathy for the patient.
Hand in hand with fairness in awarding punishment walks fairness in giving credit. Everybody hates a human hog. When one of your men has accomplished an especially creditable piece of work see that he gets the proper reward. Turn heaven and earth upside down to get it for him. Don’t try to take it away from him and hog it for yourself. You may do this and get away with it, but you have lost the respect and loyalty of your men. Sooner or later your brother officer will hear of it and shun you like a leper. In war there is glory enough for all.
Give the man under you his due. The man who always takes and never gives is not a leader. He is a parasite. There is another kind of fairness—that which will prevent an officer from abusing the privileges of his rank. When you command respect from soldiers be sure you treat them with equal respect. Build up their manhood and self-respect. Don’t try to pull it down.
For an officer to be overbearing and insulting in the treatment of enlisted men is the act of a coward. He ties the man to a tree with the ropes of discipline and then strikes him in the face, knowing full well that the man cannot strike back. Consideration, courtesy, and respect from officers toward enlisted men are not incompatible with discipline. They are parts of our discipline. Without initiative and decision no man can expect to lead.
In maneuvers you will frequently see, when an emergency arises, certain men calmly give instant orders which later, on analysis, prove to be, if not exactly the right thing, very nearly the right thing to have done. You will see other men in emergency become badly rattled: their brains refuse to work, or they give a hasty order, revoke it; give another, revoke that; in short, show every indication of being in a blue funk.
Regarding the first man you may say: “That man is a genius. He hasn’t had time to reason this thing out. He acts intuitively.” Forget it. “Genius is merely the capacity for taking infinite pains.” The man who was ready is the man who has prepared himself. He has studied beforehand the possible situation that might arise, he has made tentative plans covering such situations. When he is confronted by the emergency he is ready to meet it.
He must have sufficient mental alertness to appreciate the problem that confronts him and the power of quick reasoning to determine what changes are necessary in his already formulated plan. He must have also the decision to order the execution and stick to his orders.
Any reasonable order in an emergency is better than no order. The situation is there. Meet it. It is better to do something and do the wrong thing than to hesitate, hunt around for the right thing to do and wind up by doing nothing at all. And, having decided on a line of action, stick to it. Don’t vacillate. Men have no confidence in an officer who doesn’t know his own mind.
Occasionally you will be called upon to meet a situation, which no reasonable human being could anticipate. If you have prepared yourself to meet other emergencies, which you could anticipate, the mental training you have thereby gained will enable you to act promptly and with calmness.
You must frequently act without orders from higher authority. Time will not permit you to wait for them. Here again enters the importance of studying the work of officers above you. If you have a comprehensive grasp of the entire situation and can form an idea of the general plan of your superiors, that and your previous emergency training will enable you to determine that the responsibility is yours and to issue the necessary orders without delay.
The element of personal dignity is important in military leadership. Be the friend of your men, but do not become their intimate. Your men should stand in awe of you—not fear. If your men presume to become familiar it is your fault, not theirs. Your actions have encouraged them to do so.
And above all things, don’t cheapen yourself by courting their friendship or currying their favor. They will despise you for it. If you are worthy of their loyalty and respect and devotion they will surely give all these without asking. If you are not, nothing that you can do will win them. And then I would mention courage. Moral courage you need as well as physical courage—that kind of moral courage, which enables you to adhere without faltering to a determined course of action which your judgment has indicated as the one best suited to secure the desired results.
Every time you change your orders without obvious reason you weaken your authority and impair the confidence of your men. Have the moral courage to stand by your order and see it through. Moral courage further demands that you assume the responsibility for your own acts. If your subordinates have loyally carried out your orders and the movement you directed is a failure, the failure is yours, not theirs. Yours would have been the honor had it been successful. Take the blame if it results in disaster. Don’t try to shift it to a subordinate and make him the goat. That is a cowardly act.
Furthermore, you will need moral courage to determine the fate of those under you. You will frequently be called upon for recommendations for the promotion or demotion of officers and noncommissioned officers in your immediate command. Keep clearly in mind your personal integrity and the duty you owe your country. Do not let yourself be deflected from a strict sense of justice by feeling of personal friendship. If your own brother is your second lieutenant, and you find him unfit to hold his commission, eliminate him. If you don’t, your lack of moral courage may result in the loss of valuable lives.
If, on the other hand, you are called upon for a recommendation concerning a man whom, for personal reasons you thoroughly dislike, do not fail to do him full justice. Remember that your aim is the general good, not the satisfaction of an individual grudge. I am taking it for granted that you have physical courage. I need not tell you how necessary that is. Courage is more than bravery. Bravery is fearlessness—the absence of fear. The merest dolt may be brave, because he lacks the mentality to appreciate his danger; he doesn’t know enough to be afraid.
Courage, however, is that firmness of spirit, that moral backbone, which, while fully appreciating the danger involved, nevertheless goes on with the understanding. Bravery is physical; courage is mental and moral. You may be cold all over; your hands may tremble; your legs may quake; your knees be ready to give way—that is fear.
If, nevertheless, you go forward; if in spite of this physical defection you continue to lead your men against the enemy, you have courage. The physical manifestations of fear will pass away. You may never experience them but once. They are the “buck fever” of the hunter who tries to shoot his first deer. You must not give way to them.
A number of years ago, while taking a course in demolitions, the class of which I was a member was handling dynamite. The instructor said regarding its manipulation: “I must caution you gentlemen to be careful in the use of these explosives. One man has but one accident.” And so I would caution you. If you give way to the fear that will doubtless beset you in your first action, if you show the white feather, if you let your men go forward while you hunt a shell crater, you will never again have the opportunity of leading those men.
Use judgment in calling on your men for display of physical courage or bravery. Don’t ask any man to go where you would not go yourself. If your common sense tells you that the place is too dangerous for you to venture into, then it is too dangerous for him. You know his life is as valuable to him as yours is to you.
Occasionally some of your men must be exposed to danger, which you cannot share. A message must be taken across a fire-swept zone. You call for volunteers. If your men know you and know that you are “right” you will never lack volunteers, for they will know your heart is in your work, that you are giving your country the best you have, that you would willingly carry the message yourself if you could. Your example and enthusiasm will have inspired them.
And, lastly, if you aspire to leadership, I would urge you to study men. Get under their skins and find out what is inside. Some men are quite different from what they appear to be on the surface. Determine the workings of their minds. Much of Gen Robert E. Lee’s success as a leader may be ascribed to his ability as a psychologist. He knew most of his opponents from West Point days, knew the workings of their minds, and he believed that they would do certain things under certain circumstances. In nearly every case he was able to anticipate their movements and block the execution.
You do not know your opponent in this war in the same way. But you can know your own men. You can study each to determine wherein lies his strength and his weakness; which man can be relied upon to the last gasp and which cannot.
Know your men, know your business, know yourself.