When we are asked to think of a leader, someone who inspires us to do our best every day, a wide variety of different people come to mind. Maybe someone in your personal life, maybe someone from a television show or movie, maybe even a historical figure whose personality you greatly admire. While the type of person can vary immensely, more often than not, they will all have a certain set of skills and personality traits that make them a good leader.
My choice of leader is Adolf Hitler. Although despised through the world, Adolf Hitler was one of the greatest leaders of all time. After becoming the chancellor of Germany in 1933, he was responsible for one of the greatest economic and military expansions the world has ever seen. He successfully invaded more than 10 countries with his brilliant strategy and meticulous planning. His oratory skills, propaganda and planning made him a leader par excellence.
I would like to discuss the various underrated leadership traits that were found in Hitler and substantiate them with examples.
Firstly, a great leader is someone who is willing and open to new military ideas. During the attack at France, Colonel-General Franz Halder’s plans entailed an advance through the middle of Belgium. He envisioned a frontal attack, sacrificing a projected half million German soldiers to attain the limited goal of throwing the Allies back to the River Somme. This was an innovative and highly risky operation which was never used by the army. Many objections were raised as to the plan and instead they advocated for a decisive armoured breakthrough as had happened in the invasion of Poland, Halder and Brauchitsch attempted to dissuade them, arguing that while the fast-moving mechanised tactics were all well and good against a “shoddy” Eastern European army, they would not work against a first-rate military like the French. Meanwhile Hitler agreed to their new plan and thus the victory of germany over France was so easily achieved. If only Hitler had not been open to new ideas and tactics of warfare then maybe the history that we learn today would have been different. Therefore is it extremely important for leaders to have a constant desire to innovate, so that they can continuously come up with new strategies and they should also be open to new military ideas.
Another great trait of Hitler as a leader was his policy of Mission Command. Mission command has been a central component of the military tactics of German armed forces since the 19th century. The military commander gives subordinate leaders a clearly defined goal (the mission), the forces needed to accomplish that goal and a time frame within which the goal must be reached. The subordinate leaders then implement the order independently. The subordinate leader is given, to a large extent, the planning initiative and a freedom in execution which allows a high degree of flexibility at the operational and tactical levels of command. Mission-type orders free the higher leadership from tactical details. Mission command is closely related to civilian management concept of workplace empowerment and its use in business. This type of tactics allows swift reactions to any crisis situation instead of having to wait until the order is sanctioned from all the way top of the hierarchy. The improvisation done at the level where the crisis has hit is the most effective as the department or people who are there and are directly affected by the crisis know what is the best solution to get rid of the problem. Mission command tactics are also followed by the Indian government as delegated legislation. This trait shows the leader’s ability to delegate power and responsibility and is a very important characteristic of a successful leader.
By clearly describing his or her idea to their team, the leader will be able to create a sense of ease and understanding with his peers. When every member of the team is striving towards a common goal, then there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. Hitler’s speeches were a ploy of his visions dreams and beliefs. He completely understood how the role of an actor and a leader overlap. He knew that the crowd would not want to know the details of how they go about doing all of it. Hitler was a visionary leader and thus he would motivate the crowd with his appalling speeches of victory and glory instead of trying to explain to them the integrities of war. In this way a good channel of communication helps to build rapport as well as make the people aware of what the leader is going to do for them.
A very remarkable feature of Hitler was that he dressed down as in comparison to his other officers. The uniform of the generals and the other high level officers were quite flashy with bright colours and heavy designs. If you notice Hitler’s uniform, it was plain coloured with only his two medals and the emblem of his party. Hitler purposely did that in an attempt to show that he was a man of the crowd and also to show that he need not dress flashy as he was a very powerful person even without having to showcase it. Many top business leaders like these days have also started following this trait. Richard Brandson, for instance, wears jumpers and jeans to his business meetings instead of wearing the usual business suits that are required in such cases. They want to show that they are ordinary people who can be trusted and also that they are so powerful that they do not need to follow the social norms.
Hitler tried to ensure loyalty with shared guilt and shared incentives. Leaders like Saddam Hussain used force to make the people loyal to him. Hussain would execute all the disloyal soldiers and officers in front of the rest so as to make them understand the consequences of such an act. However, Hitler, instead of using force used the shared incentives approach. German soldiers agreed to fight and remain loyal because the war was going good for them. They were sure they would win against Russia just as easily as they won against France and Poland. Since they were so sure of the victory the soldiers wanted to be the first ones to benefit from it. The army would be the masters after the victory so the generals were keen to be in the good books of the fuherer by being loyal to his cause. Hitler also gave away huge acres of land and villas to all the high level soldiers as an incentive and the officers understood that if they crossed Hitler all of that would be lost.
However like all leaders even Hitler committed certain blunders for which he had to pay heavily. During the Russia war which was the most ambitious project of his so far, Hitler did not follow mission command. It was mission command that made the german army so invincible and Hitler removed exactly that. When leaders start to take the command of everything into their own hands, it becomes a leadership disaster. Robert Maxwell also just like Hitler started to disregard his subordinates and hired and fired them at will. It was then quite evident why Maxwell’s publishing firm hit a low after his changed attitude. Hitler fired the officers for almost no reason at all and especially not for doing a bad job. So another trait that all leaders must have is the trust for all his subordinates that they will do their best. Mistrusting his army and taking all command into his own hands was a grave mistake on part of Hitler.
Hitler always put personal loyalty before professional loyalty and that was an aberration. Air minister Garring was always too busy hunting instead of working in the air ministry of Germany. The minister was the sole reason the german army was not supplied any food and ammunition during the invasion on Russia. Even though Hitler knew of his folly he did not fire Garring as he had been with Hitler since the start of his days. Soon Hitler even started stifling criticism of his military mistakes. A leader always needs followers who would disagree with him instead of having yes-mans who will agree to whatever you say just because they do not want to cross you or get executed or fired. Hitler completely turned his generals into yes men by bribing them and stifling all constructive criticism.
Interfering in the military matters from the headquarters which was thousands of miles away was again a grave mistake. A leader should never give commands staying away from the field or work as then they would not be able to understand the actual situation. In the vietnam war president Johnson did the same thing and it gave him disastrous results as it did to Hitler. So the transformation of a visionary leader to a micro manager and trying to do both these jobs at the same time should never be done by leaders.
So according to me Hitler’s traits of trusting his subordinates and not thinking that he alone can do things right are the finest traits of leadership to be found in almost all the successful leaders. Thus, even though his actions may not be something we all should emulate, the underrated leadership traits are something that could be acknowledged!