Simple Leadership Lessons from George Marshall (guest blog)

George Catlett Marshall served the United States as Chief of Staff of the Army, as chief military advisor to President Roosevelt and as Secretary of State. He created the Marshall Plan, which President Truman insisted bear Marshall’s name, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Marshall’s leadership lessons that any boss can apply:

1) Deliver excellent performance.

Recollections of those who served with Marshall paint the picture of a tireless worker who always delivered excellent results. But there is another example of his performance that is simply amazing. Army fitness reports ask the standard question: “Would you want this person to serve under your command in the future?” Two different commanding officers answered that question about Marshal with, “Yes, but I would prefer to serve under his command.”

2) Encourage and develop good people.

Early in his career, Marshall began keeping records of excellent officers that he met. When he was in a position to do so he encouraged those officers and helped them develop. Most notable among the bunch was Dwight Eisenhower.

3) Remove those who can’t do the job and promote those who can.

Marshall’s policy was simple. Those who proved they couldn’t do the job were given other assignments. Then he filled the position with the best person available, even if that person was considered vital elsewhere.

4) Communicate effectively.

President Roosevelt was a sailor and had served as Secretary of the Navy. When Marshall briefed Roosevelt, he always used nautical language familiar to the President. Once he even created a cardboard ship model and used it to illustrate the organization of the Army.

5) Do the kind and the gracious thing.

Stories abound about Marshall’s kindness and concern for others without regard to rank or position. When he was Deputy Commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning during the Depression he discovered that married junior enlisted men had a difficult living on their pay of $21 a month. Marshall made it possible (despite regulations to the contrary) for those families to purchase a pail of food from the mess hall at minimum cost.

When he was Chief of Staff, his own mentor, John Pershing came to visit Marshall in the office. Marshall knew that Pershing hated public displays and being stared at. He also knew that the people on his staff really wanted to see the legendary Pershing up close. Marshall’s solution was to chat with Pershing in his private office, but find an excuse to bring every member of the staff into the office on some errand or other, at which time they could be introduced to General Pershing.

6) Surround yourself with excellent people.

After Dwight Eisenhower was elected President, Marshall wrote a gracious congratulatory letter, in which he said the following. “I pray especially for you in the choice of those near you. That choice, more than anything else, will determine the problems of the years and the record of history. Make them measure up to your standards.”

Boss’s Bottom Line:  Pay attention to the people.

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