By Dave Trott March 29 2011, 9:34 am
World War Two was really a story of two people. Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill.
Pretty much everything that went right and wrong can be traced back to how they did their jobs. Put simply, Churchill was a strategist. Hitler was a tactician who thought he was a strategist.
The strategist oversees a lot of tacticians. He tells them what he wants done. But he doesn’t tell them how to do it. He operates what management experts call ‘tight targets, loose controls’. That’s the proper way for a strategist to behave. That’s how Churchill behaved. In other words, give the tacticians a job and let them get on with it. That’s what a strategist does.
But Hitler wasn’t a strategist. He was a tactician who thought he was a strategist. So he didn’t really have a big picture to concentrate on. Because he didn’t have a big picture, he kept interfering in tactics. Every General and every Admiral had to get every decision approved by Hitler before they could make a move. This meant Hitler would often change tactics while the Generals were in the middle of executing them. He had no concept of the logistics of moving an army. So he moved them at will, and ignored the advice of the experts. He had no strategy above winning battles. So Germany had no strategic leader, and a bad tactician overruling the experts.
Churchill on the other hand had a big, simple strategy. Get America into the war. The biggest, most powerful country on the planet. He didn’t have time to overrule his generals, or even discuss tactics. Tactics were their job, not his. He would give them a target “I need a victory in North Africa, no excuses.” Then he’d leave them to it. If they couldn’t deliver, he’d fire them and get another General. Meanwhile, because he wasn’t interfering with tactics, Churchill was free to spend all his time working on his strategy. Criss-crossing the Atlantic to meet with Roosevelt, and address the US Government in Washington. To concentrate on changing American public opinion, and getting them into the war. He knew, once America was in the war, it was only a matter of time until Germany was beaten.
While Churchill pursued his single-minded strategy Hitler, without a strategy, made the biggest blunder of the war. He invaded Russia. After The Battle of Britain he realised we weren’t going to surrender, so he got bored and attacked someone else instead. And while his generals were moving their armies to attack in the north, Hitler changed his mind. He told them to attack in the south. And while they were getting 2 million men to change direction, he changed his mind again. And decided maybe they should attack in the north after all. And the armies wasted weeks and weeks going back and forth. And by that time it had started snowing. And we all know how that story ended. Russia destroyed the German army and America came in on Britain’s side.
Strategists 1, Tacticians 0.
Personally I’m not a strategist, I’m a tactician. The good thing is I know I’m a tactician. I don’t try to do strategy. And I like to work with strategists who don’t try to do tactics. I like a CEO, or MD, or a client, who does the strategy. They tell me what they want, and they let me do it. If I can’t do it, they get someone else. But they don’t try to do my job. They do the strategy, they let me do the tactics. When it’s worked best for me (with partners or with clients) that’s how it’s worked. Firm targets, loose controls. The best strategists do the ‘what’ and let the tacticians do the ‘how’.