[May 23, 2020] Over the next few months, I will be dedicating space in my blog to discuss the leadership characteristics of George C. Marshall. After George Washington, Marshall is considered the “most respected soldier in American history.”1 Yet, he never commanded troops in battle, the customary path to greatness for a military leader. So what was it about Marshall that allowed him to be so successful and the organizer of victory in World War II?
“The efficiency of your leadership will depend only to a minor degree on your tactical ability. It will primarily be determined by your character, your reputation, not much for courage—which will be accepted as a matter of course—but by the previous reputation you have established for fairness, for that high-minded patriotic purpose, that quality of unswerving determination to carry through any military task assigned to you.” – speaking to office candidates September 1941
George Marshall pointed out what makes a great leader; character. Without character, the leader will be lost in the complexity of the situation, be unable to care for those who follow, and stumble at accomplishing the mission. If leadership depends purely upon seniority, he once said, “you are defeated before you start.” Marshall rose to prominence in a military that had opened by reforms and began emphasizing professional military education and closer coordination within a new staff system that better prepared it for war.
Marshall never commanded a division (about 10,000 troops to give this perspective), but he became Chief of Staff on the day World War II began in Europe. In September 1939, the U.S. Army was about the size of the Dutch army that survived less than a week against the Nazi war machine. By the time the U.S. Army began fighting the Wehrmacht in 1942, its combat strength had increased tenfold. Marshall was the architect of this remarkable buildup.
“The most important factor of all is character, which involves integrity, unselfish and devoted purpose, a sturdiness of bearing when everything goes wrong, and all are critical, and a willingness to sacrifice self in the interest of the common good.” – writing to Miss Craig’s class in Roanoke, Virginia
Of those traits of character, Marshall especially emphasized loyalty in thought and deed. He noted that it is the duty and responsibility that loyalty is given freely to your boss, to the leader’s efforts to carry out your boss’s plans and policies, and even if you disapprove, the leader must exert even more energy to direct their accomplishment.
George C. Marshall was the organizer for victory in World War II. I will explore more about him personally and about how he carried out this organization in the near future.