Books and articles that matter
By Dean Andy Boynton
The still-burgeoning literature on leadership offers reams of advice on the essentials of managing people and steering projects in the right direction. What’s not always appreciated is something equally important: an effective leader knows when to get out of the way.
This thought came to mind as I read historian Paul Kennedy’s latest book Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War (Random House, 2013). Kennedy celebrates the ordinary people who tackled seemingly insurmountable challenges during the war. But he also spotlights the leaders who gave them the freedom and encouragement to do so.
Kennedy, the Dilworth Professor of History and director of international security studies at Yale University, is best known for his 1987 masterwork Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. His new book takes a sharp look at the daunting military-operational problems facing the Allied forces from early 1943 to mid-1944. He trains an even sharper eye on the soldiers, scientists, engineers, and businessmen who solved these problems.
The book explores five challenges with a chapter dedicated to each: how to get convoys safely across the Atlantic, how to win command of the air, how to stop a blitzkrieg, how to seize an enemy-held shore, and how to defeat the “tyranny of distance” involved in fighting battles across the vast Pacific region. Kennedy stresses that all of these challenges required a continuous infusion of fresh ideas in pursuit of victory.
“None of this can be done by the chiefs alone, however great their genius, however massive their energy. There has to be a support system, a culture of encouragement … ” he writes, explaining how wartime leaders encouraged initiative, innovation, and ingenuity.
The best leaders in all fields of endeavor do the same.
At the Carroll School, we try to foster such a “culture of encouragement,” as Kennedy styles it. Our course Technology and Economic Development, offered for the first time this past semester and known simply as “TechTrek Ghana,” is the latest among many examples. It was taught by Associate Professor John Gallaugher, who opened his Fulton Hall door each week to guest speakers active in social entrepreneurship—innovators aiming to both turn a profit and fight poverty in Africa. After taking their finals, Gallaugher and his students headed off to Ghana for an intensive weeklong study tour.
The idea for the class was hatched last summer in a conversation Gallaugher had with Kevin Schuster ’11, an A&S alum who works with an entrepreneurship training school in Ghana (and who was visiting campus at the time). Everyone knows that, in higher education, ambitious ideas can dwell in limbo for years, awaiting multiple layers of approval.
But Gallaugher was able to offer the class this past spring, just months after the idea materialized, because people at various administrative levels saw something innovative brewing. They provided the encouragement and resources needed to make it happen. And—as Gallaugher explained recently in a press interview—“They got out of the way.”
TechTrek Ghana is one little example of the leadership style Kennedy highlights in his study of wartime leadership. Those generals and others recognized talent and initiative. They weren’t afraid of unorthodoxy, or failures along the way to success. They gave subordinates the freedom to develop their ideas—and allowed problem solving to steam ahead.
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