A Book I Read This Past Summer

October 7, 2008

IStock_000006652619XSmall Since I spent my boyhood years growing up during the Second World War, I've always been fascinated with its history.  I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and I was exposed to a lot of the military people coming and going, and to a lot of wonderful parades of returning war heroes.

My search for history has led me to George Arrington's bookstore in Ogunquit, Maine.  I've found some fascinating old books, many written in first person by the men who fought in World War II.  This past summer, I plowed through the war memories of Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein, who was labeled Germany's most brilliant general.  Since I've come to believe that military leadership can offer many lessons to help anyone who is trying to lead a group of people in business, politics or any other organization, I found these memories very instructive.


Von Manstein spent 18 months commanding a large army group on the Russian front from the fall of 1942 until the spring of 1944.  Although the huge Soviet armies finally overran and defeated the Germans, the Field Marshall seemed to be fighting with his hand tied behind his back as Hitler continued to vacillate on key battlefield decisions and interfered in almost every issue.

Perhaps Hitler's greatest blunder occurred at the Battle of Stalingrad.  When Von Manstein took over the command of the army group in November of 1942, he found that Stalingrad was completely surrounded by the Russians.  There were repeated requests to Hitler to allow the sixth army to break out from Stalingrad.  But Hitler refused to consider these requests by his generals in the field as he did not want to give up Stalingrad.  He believed it would have been a terrible loss to his world prestige.  Finally, however, Stalingrad fell to the Russians with the loss of about 250,000 German soldiers.

As time passed on the eastern front, the Germans were faced with trying to hold a 500-mile front with ever-weakening forces, while the Soviet forces continued to increase, at times reaching a ratio of 8 Russians to 1 German.  Repeated requests were made to Hitler to fall back, to reduce the 500-mile front to enable a better concentration of Germans.  But Hitler continued to refuse his general's requests and, of course, the Russians continued to increase their forces and eventually overran the Germans and won the war in the east.

Hitler's ego would not let him accept his general's requests.  He knew very little about military strategy, but he continued to exercise his role as supreme commander, regardless of what others thought or would say.  He would personally hold back reinforcements when they were badly needed and made other very bad decisions.

This lesson in leadership shows how important it is to delegate to your team; to almost always recognize that those in the field know best and should be given the opportunity to manage their operations to the best of their ability.  Of course, it's very important for the boss to keep informed.  It's also important for the leader to clear the road blocks set up by bureaucracy in every organization so those in the field can make decisions and get the job done.  Thankfully for the allies in World War II, Hitler didn't do this!

I'm Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

A Book I Read This Past Summer

The comments to this entry are closed.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Mr. Chairman,

I share your interest in history and would encourage you to read Heinz Guderian's book also. While war is terrible, the aspect of astute resource management and understanding your opponent (i.e. the market competitors) cannot be lost in the business analogy. Check out B. L. Hart's miltary book on achieving significant lasting success by the indirect approach.

Dear Chairman J.W. Marriott,

Recently, I have the honor get in hand of your book which was published in 1997 "The Spirit to Serve", and I love it and read four times, I am interest to seek your premission to translate into Chinese and may I ask your email address, so I can write you a letter in more detail?

Another great book I just read is "the Fall of Berlin 1945."

It is really good and impressive

u are in the FIE
LD and unoe the best!!!

Smart analysis Bill, obviously you are right and this method works (as long those on the field know best ;)

I am currently writing my final paper for my degree program on the Marriott organization. What a wonderful, rich heritage! The Marriott website has helped my tremendously and I have LOVED reading the stories of JW and Alice, and subsequently JW Marriott Jr. Chose the Marriott Company because of the value that is placed on the Associates. I have stayed in several Marriott-owned hotels over the years (my favorite stay was the presidential suite at JW Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert CA) and the caliber of service reflects how well the Company invests in their employees. I spent nearly 15 years in the Hopsitality Industry, so I can be a bit critical of service. Blessings and continual prosperity on Marriott International, Inc. Long live the spirit behind Hot Shoppe!

Try Art of War, I love it!

I have a love for the old tucked out of the way book stores. If you get the chance try The Book Barn on West Main St Niantic CT. Its just past the entrance to Rocky Neck State Park. I was amazed when looking through the best seller lists this week and see Gen. Grants memoirs still up there. Yes these men do have a way with leadership don't they? Thanks for your example!

Have you thought about your own in-hotel library with e book downloads as well.
Make a great additional service to your customers.

Reading books is generally one great activity, but when someone doesn't have much time like me, better choose with care.
I will advice you to read if you haven't yet Hitler's Empire by Mark Mazower, it's interesting to have a better understanding of the history.

Dear Mr. Marriott,
I invite you to see Stalingrad, a 1993 film by Joseph Vilsmaier, which depicts the horrors of combat on the Eastern Front of World War II in a realistic and unromanticized fashion.

I personally think that WWII wasn't won by nation leaders or high ranking army generals behind bureaucratic desks. It was won by the bravery of thousands of soldiers that had the guts to stand in the battlefront and fight. They were the ones who made the difference sacrificing their dearest lives to write new pages of valor in world history. They were the ones who witnessed the bitterness of bullets cutting through their bodies. They were the ones who witnessed the harshness of wounds, a lot of them returning to war immediately after recovery to continue the fight for what they believed in. I believe a big gratitude goes to all those secret agents that worked in total obscurity delivering valuable German military info to the allies. When these guys were by caught by the Gestapo they were totally tortured and massacred. I believe that ten percent of the credit goes to the decision makers but an overwhelming 90 percent goes to the brave men that truly had the courage to execute those orders. On the other hand I firmly believe that Hitler, while building his massive but devilish empire from totally scratch, was the victim of his own greed and insatiable appetite. The good our Lord planted in the hearts of free men would never have allowed him to succeed. Mr. Marriott I believe that is how this solid management theory that you referred to, the man on the front knows everything, was originally built.

Absolutely! Leadership is not at all about being a boss. It's more of a vision, and the only thing that'll move this vision into action is relationships. Positive changes can only be made in the context of a supporting team. In the simplest words possible, leadership is all about making friends!

There certainly are a lot of stories on the second world war.The one that intriques me the most is the story about the abandon and forgotten General Joseph Stilwell Road that ran from India thru Burma and on to China.It is a story I am preparing a youtube video on.My involvement with the Ledo Road came about after a meeting in Calcutta India at Fort Williams after which I journeyed to Assam India.The road demanded much,some said it demanded all

Delegation, envision and always do your best.
Four challenges that I am following:
1- Be impeccable with your words
2- Do not take anything personnaly
3- Do not assume anything
4- and finally, always do your best.
Thanks for all the days spent away from my family.
Benoit Grenier
http://www.communication-8020.com