What George Marshall Said About Leadership

“You have to lead men in war by requiring more from the individual than he thinks he can do.  You have to lead men in war by bringing them along to endure and to display qualities of fortitude that are beyond the average man’s thought of what he should be expected to do.  You have to inspire them when they are hungry and exhausted and desperately uncomfortable and in great danger; and only a man of positive characteristics of leadership, with the physical stamina that goes with it, can function under those conditions.”–1940 to Senate Military Affairs Committee

“Men can do a great deal with very little if they have high morale and determination.”

“The truly great leader overcomes all difficulties, and campaigns and battles are nothing but a long series of difficulties to be overcome. The lack of equipment, the lack of food, the lack of this or that are only excuses; the real leader displays his quality in his triumphs over adversity, however great it may be.”–1941 to OCS class

When you are commanding, leading [soldiers] under conditions where physical exhaustion and privations must be ignored, where the lives of [soldiers] may be sacrificed, then, the efficiency of your leadership will depend only to a minor degree on your tactical ability.  It will primarily be determined by your character, your reputation, not much for courage—which will be accepted as a matter of course—but by the previous reputation you have established for fairness, for that high-minded patriotic purpose, that quality of unswerving determination to carry through any military task assigned to you.–Speaking to officer candidates in September 1941

“If leadership depends purely on seniority you are defeated before you start. You give a good leader very little and he will succeed; you give mediocrity a great deal and they will fail.”–1941 to the Truman Committee

“It is comparatively simple to select the generals after a display of their military qualities on the battlefield.  The difficulty is when we must choose them prior to employment in active operations. . . . The most important factor of all is character, which involves integrity, unselfish and devoted purpose, a sturdiness of bearing when everything goes wrong and all are critical, and a willingness to sacrifice self in the interest of the common good.”–1944 writing to Miss Craig’s class in Roanoke, Virginia

“An able officer of low rank has a hard battle to fight, particularly with himself. Do not let this affect your morale, because you can never tell what moment the ‘world turns.’  I have had plenty of experience as this business, and have watched many sink in mental irritation over the depressing outlook. Keep your wits about you and your eyes open; keep on working hard; sooner or later the opportunity will present itself, and then you must be prepared both tactically and temperamentally to profit by it.” 1934 to a former student at Fort Benning

“He understood nothing of the necessity of compromise. This is a magnificent, but rather unpractical trait.  In almost every public position in life compromises must be made.  The great man is he who makes the minor adjustments—without dishonor—that permit the great issues or important matters to be carried to proper completion.” –writing to a colleague in 1935

“To be a highly successful leader in war four things are essential, assuming that you possess good common sense, have studied your profession and are physically strong.

When conditions are difficult, the command is depressed and everyone seems critical and pessimistic, you must be especially cheerful and optimistic.

When evening comes and all are exhausted, hungry and possibly dispirited, particularly in unfavorable weather at the end of a march or in battle, you must put aside any thought of personal fatigue and display marked energy in looking after the comfort of your organization, inspecting your lines and preparing for tomorrow.

Make a point of extreme loyalty, in thought and deed, to your chiefs personally; and in your efforts to carry out their plans or policies, the less you approve the more energy you must direct to their accomplishment.

The more alarming and disquieting the reports received or the conditions viewed in battle, the more determined must be your attitude.  Never ask for the relief of your unit and never hesitate to attack.”–writing to a VMI professor in 1920