Would-be CEOs and Fuehrers, listen up: Character is destiny.
Case in point: The ultimate Fuehrer and CEO, Adolf Hitler.
Ever since he shot himself in his underground Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, historians have fiercely debated: Was der Fuehrer a military genius or an imbecile?
With literally thousands of titles to choose, the average reader may feel overwhelmed. But if you’re looking for an understandable, overall view of Hitler’s generalship, an excellent choice would be How Hitler Could Have Won World War II by Bevin Alexander.
Among “the fatal errors that led to Nazi defeat” (as proclaimed on the book jacket) were:
- Wasting hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots, fighters and bombers in a half-hearted attempt to conquer England.
- Ignoring the pleas of generals like Erwin Rommel to conquer Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia–thus giving Germany control of most of the world’s oil.
- Attacking his ally, the Soviet Union, while still at war with Great Britain.
- Needlessly turning millions of Russians into enemies rather than allies by his brutal and murderous policies.
- Declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (Had he not done so, Americans would have focused all their attention on conquering Japan.)
- Refusing to negotiate a separate peace with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin–thus granting Germany a large portion of captured Russian territory in exchange for letting Stalin remain in power.
- Insisting on a “not one step back” military “strategy” that led to the unnecessary surrounding, capture and/or deaths of hundreds of thousands of German servicemen.
As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking.
He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces. This, in turn, led to astounding and needless losses in German soldiers.
One such incident was immortalized in the 1962 movie, The Longest Day, about the Allied invasion of France known as D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, Rommel ordered the panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches. But these could not be released except on direct order of theFuehrer. As Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuehrer was asleep–and, no, he, Jodl, would not wake him. By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.
Nor could he accept responsibility for the policies that were clearly leading Germany to certain defeat. Hitler blamed his generals, accused them of cowardice, and relieved many of the best ones from command.
Among those sacked was Heinz Guderian, creator of the German panzer corps–and thus responsible for its highly effective “blitzkrieg” campaign against France in 1940.
Another was Erich von Manstein, designer of the strategy that defeated France in six weeks–something Germany couldn’t do during the four years of World War 1.
Erich von Manstein
Finally, on April 29, 1945–with the Russians only blocks from his underground bunker in Berlin–Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”
Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that would ultimately consume 50 million lives:
“It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.”
Hitler had launched the war with a lie–that Poland had attacked Germany, rather than vice versa. And he closed the war–and his life–with a final lie.
All of which, once again, brings us back to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.
In his classic book, The Discourses, he wrote at length on the best ways to maintain liberty within a republic.
In Book Three, Chapter 31, Machiavelli declares: “Great Men and Powerful Republics Preserve an Equal Dignity and Courage in Prosperity and Adversity.”
It is a chapter that Adolf Hitler would have done well to read.
“…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
“The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess, and this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them.
“And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
“Thence it comes that princes of this character think more of flying in adversity than of defending themselves, like men who, having made a bad use of prosperity, are wholly unprepared for any defense against reverses.”
Stay alert to signs of such character flaws among your own business colleagues–and especially your superiors. They are the warning signs of a future catastrophe.