13 Leadership Lessons World War I

By James Strock
via the Serve to Lead Group web site 

Woodrow Wilson Harris Ewing bw photo portrait 1919 500pxWoodrow Wilson’s failing health and brittle, increasingly volatile temperament were significant factors in his troubled relationships with other WWI stakeholders.The Great War of 1914-18—it became the First World War only in tragic retrospect—was the seminal event of the 20th century. Its after-effects reverberate in our day.

One might argue that the 20th century actually began with the war in 1914, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. If so, then one might characterize World War I as the 75-Year War.

The Great War and its immediate aftermath (including the flu pandemic) consumed 37 million casualties.

As shocking as the absolute number is, consider what it would mean in today’s terms. In 1920 the population of the earth was approaching two billion; by contrast, today that number has passed seven billion. By a conservative accounting, that would translate into more than a hundred million casualties in our time.

At the outset of a new century, it may be useful to reflect upon leadership lessons that the Great War provides.

Just as the war affected aspects of life far beyond the battlefield, its leadership lessons have resonance far beyond wartime.

13 Leadership Lessons World War I

  1. Leadership Matters. Leadership—of individuals and elites in power—was of great significance. The war did not “just happen.” Barbara Tuchman’s enduring literary history, The Guns of August, made the case for the war being the result of failed diplomatic arrangements. Once the fuse was lit, the conflagration was inevitable. More recent scholarship, such as The Sleepwalkers, returns attention to widespread, identifiable leadership failures of various political and military figures.

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