This is Part Two in a series (so please read Part One first!) examining what a leadership case study of an all but forgotten WWII American Army general can teach us about the current leadership deficiencies in many organizations. The series was sparked by a CNN article I read outlining recent officer misconduct in the U.S. Navy.
Simply put, my thesis is that the technique-based, therapeutic style of leadership common in American culture is flawed and would be best to be discarded and replaced by a more classical leadership style based on values and character and exhibited by certain men and women of valor in history.
The person we are examining was the commander of the most combat effective American division of the Second World War, a man who was, ironically, a 1910 graduate of the United States Naval Academy: Major General John Emmit Sloan, a man so forgotten by history that he doesn't even have his own wikipedia page. But he's a man whose character would behoove us to study and emulate.
Sloan was an unlikely hero - at 55 years of age he was already too old to command a division but an exception was made for him and he was given command of the newly formed 88th Infantry Division in 1942. Sloan had little to do with the selection of other officers of the division and, of course, he could not exert direct personal leadership influence on the 13,000 enlisted men under his command. However, by example and by tireless supervision and guidance, General Sloan seems to have been able to instill his own high standards of conduct and leadership in all of the officers directly below him and, through them, in all other officers and non-commissioned officers of the division. This was manifested initially through zeal in training - something which paid huge dividends later when the division faced combat. The records show that leadership characteristics demonstrated in the 88th Division included:
Attention to detail
Inspirational talks and messages
Personal presence in the front line
Being sure subordinates had what they needed to do the job
Making sure every assignment was carried out properly, including those not immediately related to military procedures
Requiring strict adherence to established standards for military courtesy and proper uniform (remember - the division was composed of conscripts, not of professional soldiers)
Prompt relief of any subordinate who could not or would not do his job
Establishing rapport with subordinate commanders
Grasping and communicating the "big picture" and role of each unit in overall objectives
During lulls in battle and during rest periods, the division trained. One reason why his division ranked right up with the best of the German divisions was that Sloan carried out rear-area training programs and demanded standards of performance very similar to those characteristic of the Germans, while showing similar interest in, and concern for, his men. He also demanded of his officers a professionalism comparable to that of the Germans. Replacements were soon imbued with the spirit of the division. When the division was out on the line Sloan still insisted upon smart salutes and buttoned buttons, and got them from proud soldiers. By dedicated professionalism, inspiring leadership, and very hard work, General Sloan was able to raise his division to a combat performance capability much higher than that of any other American division. He was a man of character and integrity who led from the front and, like all the great military commanders of history, inspired courage and instilled loyalty by his own example. The United Staes Navy would do well to have men of General Sloan's calibre in their ranks - a man I call Annapolis' best general.