General Ledger

Consultant Debunking Unit

If you listen to consultant-speak, the logic goes something like this: “War is hell. Business is hell. So, what the hell, business must be war.” Which is why consultants who give speeches or write books are so eager to treat famous generals like role models.


Before you enter this minefield of consulting mythology, consider these three books, which purport to teach you the brilliant insights and managerial mastery of three generals: “Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision,” by H.W. Crocker III (Prima Publishing, 1999); “Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare,” by Alan Axelrod (Prentice Hall, 1999); and “Cigars, Whiskey & Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant,” by Al Kaltman (Prentice Hall, 1999). Our advice? Duck and cover.

General Robert E. Lee George S. Patton Jr. Hiram U. Grant
(erroneously renamed “Ulysses S.” when he enrolled at West Point)
Nickname “The Gray Fox” “Old Blood and Guts” “Lyss”
How Good Are You Really? “No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me … I am alone to blame.” “I am the best damn ass-kicker in the whole U.S. Army!” “They pronounced me idle, incompetent, and unfit to command men in an emergency, and clamored for my removal.”
War Is, Um, Heck? “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” “Remember, wars are won by killing people. The more we kill, the quicker we’ll get out of this war.” “War at all times … ought to be avoided, if possible with honor.”
How to Avoid the Fog of Battle “I have to do my own reconnaissance. I am so stupid that I cannot rely on others.” “You will never know what is going on unless you can hear the whistle of the bullets.” “The distant rear of an army engaged in battle is not the best place from which to judge correctly what is going on in front.”
You Don’t Need to Be a Genius to Be a General “The enemy is here, and if we do not whip him, he will whip us.” “We will win because we will never lose!” “The only way to whip an army is to go out and fight it.”
If You’re a General, then This Is Wisdom “Always take care of the poor horses.” “We’ll not need food when we are winning! We will eat the enemy!” “I am a confirmed believer in the restorative qualities of sleep, and always like to get at least seven hours of it.”
Would You Follow a Leader Who Said This? “Never touch a novel. They … describe happiness that never exists…. Do not dream.” “I will shoot any one of you who ever had his // picture taken with a smile on his face!” “The instantaneous transmission of messages … by means of electricity would probably … have been attributed to witchcraft.”