Bernard Montgomery Leadership
Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)
Monty (which most people called him) was the most famous British general of World War
He led the British army to victory:
- at the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in 1942.
- during the invasion of France and Germany after D-Day
For more detail see...
D-Day in the History Highlights
Why was he a great
1. Inspiration and self-discipline
He believed that a leader must have the power (“spiritual quality”) to inspire others. He did this by instilling
into his troops his own:
- supreme self-confidence.
Just before the Battle of El Alamein, Montgomery (pictured right at the battle in his inspirational black beret)
told them in a personal message that they would win, and he believed that a leader’s most vital characteristics
- “retain poise” through emotional self-control.
To help achieve this self-discipline, he kept a strict, regular regime of:
- sleep (even during battles),
- healthy diet (he didn’t drink or smoke).
2. Clear objectives
He defined his aims clearly and then achieved them by:
- ensuring everyone was clear about what they had
to do in battle.
3. Communication and encouragement
When he took over the leadership of the 8th Army, it was demoralized after a series of defeats.
- visited all his troops to encourage them
- gave an inspirational speech to his senior officers
He looked straight at the officers without any notes and told them about his plan to destroy the Germans and
Italians in North Africa.
“It can be done and it will be done”, he told them, and added that every soldier must know what
to do and how to do it.
So everyone was told his plan at El Alamein before the battle (pictured right).
He also effectively communicated with the air force because of the vital importance of a co-ordinated
air and land attack.
4. Support from his troops
He would have achieved nothing without the ability and commitment of his men, particularly Francis
(known as Freddie) de Guingand (pictured right), his brilliant chief-of-staff, responsible for
implementing Monty’s orders and so allowing him to focus on the big issues.
Freddie’s humour and sensitivity perfectly complemented Monty’s brusque, sometimes brutal,
Another key officer was Bill Williams (pictured right), who provided vital information
from decoded German messages.
But Monty believed that the most important part of his army was the ordinary soldiers and their immediate
He believed that his men's morale was more important than anything else, and success in battle was the best way
to achieve it.
“Nothing is ever hopeless, so long as troops have stout hearts and have weapons and
ammunition”, he said.
5. Learning and training
Monty thought that knowledge was much more important than personality,
So he constantly learned from:
- studying the principles of war and leadership
- his army experiences (including his leadership of a platoon in World War One)
- the enemy, particularly his German opponent in North Africa, Erwin Rommel, pictured right
in 1942 (copying his highly mobile and successful army, the Afrika Korps).
Monty encouraged everyone to learn from mistakes and made sure they were
adequately trained to improve the three things he believed won battles:
6. Successful decision making
“Decisions and plans must be adaptable to changing situations”, Montgomery said.
For example, at El Alamein one of his generals persuaded him to change his original plan and give more
infantry support to the artillery.
But Montgomery refused to change, if he thought he was right.
For example he resisted pressure from the British prime minister, Winston Churchill (pictured right together in 1945) to fight
El Alamein a month earlier in September, because his troops needed more training.
He made time for quiet thought in the early morning and evening to consider all aspects of
a problem before making a decision.
But he never worried afterwards and was always calm in a crisis. He never immersed himself in operational
detail, so he could concentrate on battle strategy.
7. Ruthless integrity
He was ruthless with:
- incompetence (firing many of his senior officers).
- anybody who wasted his time.
People will accept this, he said, if “the leader is ruthless with himself”.
Montgomery (pictured right above as a young officer) won people's respect through:
- his absolute professionalism, honesty and
- practising what he preached
- having the moral courage to do what he thought was right.
8. Determination and focus
He never gave in to life's problems, particularly:
- an unhappy childhood (his cruel and domineering mother often beat him).
- the tragic death of his wife, Betty, in 1937, which reinforced his total dedication to his
But his egotistic focus sometimes blinded him to the truth.
For example, during the invasion of Europe in 1944-5 after D-Day, he never fully accepted:
- his over-cautiousness.
- the vital contribution of the American army.
So his American military boss, Dwight D.
Eisenhower (pictured together right planning D-Day), was often infuriated by him
9. Religious faith
He inherited the faith of his beloved father, Henry, a Church of England priest, which helped
him through his personal and professional problems.
In World War One (pictured right) he was saved from certain death by a soldier who shielded him from enemy fire
after being killed dressing Monty’s wound.
At El Alamein the number and firepower of his army was far greater than the enemy’s.
He had twice as many tanks and 90,000 more men.
Key quotes on leadership and
Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires
The beginning of leadership is a battle for hearts and minds of men.
The leader must have infectious enthusiasm.
Officers are trained to lead soldiers in battle, but unless they fully understand all their problems and gain
their confidence, the battle will be lost.
Key quote on
Battles are won in the hearts of
Key quotes on
The morale of the soldier is the greatest single
factor in war.
The greatest single factor in winning a war is the understanding of man
quote on human resource management
Every soldier must know, before he goes into battle, how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger
picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole.
Key quote on
fear and pain
Discipline strengthens the mind so that it becomes impervious to the corroding influence of fear.