On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf

On War and Leadership: The Words of Combat Commanders from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf


What can we learn about leadership and the experience of war from the best combat leaders the world has ever known? This book takes us behind the scenes and to the front lines of the major wars of the past 250 years through the words of twenty combat commanders. What they have to say--which is remarkably similar across generational, national, and ideological divides--is a fascinating take on military history by those who lived it. It is also worthwhile reading for anyone, from any walk of life, who makes executive decisions. The leaders showcased here range from Frederick the Great to Norman Schwarzkopf. They include such diverse figures as Napoleon Bonaparte, commanders on both sides of the Civil War (William Tecumseh Sherman and Stonewall Jackson), German and American World War II generals (Rommel and Patton), a veteran of the Arab-Israeli wars (Moshe Dayan), and leaders from both sides of the Vietnam War (Vo Nguyen Giap and Harold Moore). What they have had in common is an unrivaled understanding of the art of command and a willingness to lead from the front. All earned the respect and loyalty of those they led--and moved them to risk death. The practices of these commanders apply to any leadership situation, whether military, business, political, athletic, or other. Their words reveal techniques for anticipating the competition, leading through example, taking care of the "troops," staying informed, turning bad luck to advantage, improvising, and making bold decisions. Leader after leader emphasizes the importance of up-front "muddy boots" leadership and reveals what it takes to persevere and win. Identifying a pattern of proven leadership, this book will benefit anyone who aspires to lead a country, a squadron, a company, or a basketball team. It is a unique distillation of two and a half centuries of military wisdom.


This is an anthology of the thoughts on leadership of combat commanders— twenty in all—over the past 250 years. Their written (or spoken) words are quoted from primary sources—translated where necessary. They are Western leaders, save Vo Nguyen Giap (a North Vietnamese general) and perhaps Moshe Dayan (an Israeli commander but European in culture and training). the views of warriors may help balance the scale of military thought, which, since the fall of Napoleon, has been tipped heavily toward theory by a surfeit of books, beginning with Carl von Clausewitz’s Vom Kriege (1832) and Antoine de Jomini’s Précis de l’art de la guerre (1838).

This collection should allow historians in general to try to discern (or divine) the commanders’ ontological, epistemological, and teleological views (their hermeneutics are traditional), and surely be useful to military historians and their readers. It should also be of interest to people in all walks of life who make executive decisions, civil or military; they can compare their management and leadership ideas with those of military masters.

The leaders I have chosen all belong to what has been termed the “muddy boots” school of leadership. This, of course, reflects my personal predilection. Among my choices, personalities vary from charismatic to enigmatic to stern to outwardly hateful (e.g., Joseph Stilwell, called “Vinegar Joe”). But these men all led from the front. This was true of Frederick the Great, Napoleon, and the others, whether (at the time their leadership is examined) they were at the head of armies (Sherman, Rommel, Patton, Ridgway); brigades or corps (Stonewall Jackson), battalions (Harold Moore, Nick Vaux), or guerrilla bands (Lawrence of Arabia, John Mosby), or had experience at both lower and higher command (DeGaulle, Manstein, Slim, Montgomery, Moshe Dayan, Giap, and Schwarzkopf). They were all also improvisors, believers in single command, and mildly or flagrantly eccentric.

Naturally, not all worthy commanders are quoted herein. Another writer might have chosen differently, and surely many of the best left no records because they were killed or lacked the talent, inclination, or personality to write or dictate their ideas. the Elder Helmuth von Moltke does not figure in this collection because his chief work was perfecting the Prussian general staff. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee of the American Civil War are passed over because neither addressed leadership issues in a forthright way; Sherman did and is included; he also represents what has been called the “American way of war.”

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.