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7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day

7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day

John Antal
ARRSE Rating
2.5 Mushroom Heads
As books go, this is a curate's egg and this reviewer felt compelled to read it twice in order to form a fair opinion. Such indecision undoubtedly fails John Antal's Leadership Lesson Number 3 but it did enable a better view, thus ticking the box for Leadership Lesson Number 5.

In '7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day', John Antal takes seven specific actions or decision points from the American experience and attempts to distill leadership lessons which could usefully be applied to other endeavours and walks of life, particularly business. The result is a curious hybrid; part history, part 'What they don't teach you at Harvard Business School'. The author has used this concept before when he penned '7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution' and that's probably the key point that sets the tone for everything else that follows - more than anything else, the D-Day reprise feels like the author serving up a re-heated offering and going through the motions without ever getting into high gear. There's also an undeclared war between the conflicting needs of historical rigour and the requirement to extract business-related teaching points.

This tension rears its head in the opening chapter which discusses Eisenhower's process for making the decision to attack on the 6th and the famous meeting of the senior commanders where the 'go/no go' choice was debated. Antal's teaching point is about making a decisive choice and taking responsibility for it having listened to the options and opinions of your team. So far so correct but the utility of the example is challenged given the subject under discussion and the inherent unity of purpose among the participants - Ramsey and Montgomery weren't talking to headhunters about a senior role with the Kreigsmarine or the Wehrmacht, neither were they looking to optimise their stock options by enabling a rival takeover. What is presented in this instance as skilled diplomacy and wise guidance on Eisenhower's part could equally be portrayed as simply an instance of Eisenhower's tendency to take the path of least resistance paying off instead of being the destructive habit which would to cause so much trouble and bad blood later on in the European Campaign. Antal the historian fails to really interrogate Eisenhower's style of leadership largely because Antal the business mentor needs it as an exemplar. About the only thing Patton and Montgomery ever agreed on was that Eisenhower's temporising prolonged the war.

There's a long history of business publications trying to apply the lessons of war to the challenges of business, with Sun Tzu retiring hurt more often than not, but, beyond some very general, and one would hope obvious, points, the utility of the approach is not clear. For multiple reasons, no commercial entity will ever remotely approach the cohesion and shared identity of a decent military formation, far less the intensity of units like the Rangers or the Airborne Divisions and any organisation which attempted to would make for a very alarming workplace. It therefore follows that the style of leadership will tend more towards the managerial end of the spectrum rather than the 'those who love me, follow me' style at the other extreme. If really strong parallels exist between your boardroom and Omaha Beach, the Jobs Vacant section is your friend. Ultimately, that's the conundrum that this book fails to resolve.

In terms of the author, John Antal is a retired Colonel in the US Army and the author of a dozen books. In addition to his writing, he is Director of Leadership Programmes for the North Texas Association of the US Army. The cover blurb carries the strapline 'Nobody tells a story better than John Antal' which is open to dispute when the author pens a clunker like: "The tension was as thick as the armor of a German Tiger tank", but broadly he tells his tales well, his military background informs the narratives and his style is very accessible. 7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day is not a hard read.

Overall, this is not a bad book, but neither is it a particularly good book. As a history it is insufficiently incisive and, as a business manual, it is simply too general to be truly useful. This is frustrating because, though the stories of Roosevelt at Utah and the assault on the Pointe du Hoc have been told better elsewhere, his recounting of the actions at La Fiere and Graiges shows both a willingness and the ability to bring less well-known actions to life and also what this book could have been had it not been burdened with an unworkable creative concept.

Amazon product

This is not a book that I would seek out or that I would pay the hardback price of £25.00 for, however, if you found it in the military section of your local bargain bookshop, there are harder ways to spend an afternoon, if only to rediscover two critical actions which deserve to be remembered but which have been overshadowed by the more famous events of the day.
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