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Bernard Montgomery LeadershipBernard Montgomery Leadership


Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)


Monty (which most people called him) was the most famous British general of World War Two.

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 section.


Why was he a great leader?


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. bernard montgomery leadership 
  • enthusiasm.
  • positive thinking.

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 were to:

  • “radiate confidence” 
  • “retain poise” through emotional self-control.

To help achieve this self-discipline, he kept a strict, regular regime of:

  • sleep (even during battles),
  • rest
  • 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.  
  • effectively co-ordinating their work.

  • involving them in decisions affecting them.


3. Communication and encouragement

When he took over the leadership of the 8th Army, it was demoralized after a series of defeats.

So he:

  • 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.Bernard Montgomery Leadership

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.

 Bernard Montgomery Leadership

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, behaviour.Bernard Montgomery Leadership

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 commanders.

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:bernard montgomery leadership

  • 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:

  • initiative.
  • physical fitness.
  • fighting spirit.


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.Bernard Montgomery Leadership

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.

 Bernard Montgomery Leadership

7. Ruthless integrity

He was ruthless with:

  • inefficiency.
  • 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 integrity 
  • practising what he preached
  • leading by example 
  • 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 army career.

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. Bernard Montgomery Leadership 
  • 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.

 Bernard Montgomery Leadership

10. Luck

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 management

Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.

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 motivation

Battles are won in the hearts of men.


Key quotes on war

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 management.


Key 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.


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