Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Churchill as a manager

Good managers often reduce their techniques to simple aphorisms. "Expect what you inspect," was one often used by Senator Lloyd Bentsen [D-TX], for whom I worked for seven years.

I never thought much about Winston Churchill as a manager until recently. I knew that he was hard-driving, self-assured, often unresponsive to the advice of others, easily fixated on grand but dubious schemes -- and yet ultimately successful and much admired as a wartime leader.

In Warlords, by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts (Da Capo Press, 2006), the authors quote an October 2, 1941 minute to the head of Britain's MI6. The Prime Minister was concerned that Britain share useful information gained from its breaking of German codes, without of course revealing that fact. The Germans had just launched a major operation against Moscow. Churchill wrote: "Are you warning the Russians of the developing concentration? Show me the last five messages  you have sent out to our missions on the subject."

Churchill wasn't satisfied with a simple report. He wanted proof. To me, that's good management.

[Note: The citation is to F.H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, London, 1979-1990, vol. 2, p. 59.]

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