23 January, 2013

Von Manstein’s 4 Officer Types - adapted for managers

There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm…Second, there are the hard-working, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.
- General Erich Von Manstein (1887-1973) on the German Officer Corps

Now some people take this far too seriously. I see it as an insightful, but tongue-in-cheek aphorism. With that caveat, how does it stack up when applied to the business managerial cadre?
  • Lazy, stupid managers are unlikely to get in the way of their staff trying to do a good job and tend to go with the general thrust of strategic intent because to do otherwise might require effort. However, that’s not good enough for me in the long run, although you may want the odd one or two for necessary but low impact roles that no-one else is excited by.
  • Hard-working, intelligent managers get things done, through their own efforts and direct leadership. They pay attention to details of design and execution. You have to get them on-side regarding strategic intent, and they may challenge what that intent should be, but they are smart enough to understand the need for unity of purpose and will work hard to achieve success. You want a lot of your managers to be in this category. Nurture and develop them.
  • Hard-working, stupid managers are downright dangerous - they create unnecessary work, they reinvent the wheel, they constantly challenge strategic intent without having anything better to offer, and their teams are often the most dissatisfied. I agree - get rid of them.
  • Lazy, intelligent managers are the ones who know what to do, but they don’t get sucked into day-to-day operations, and are smart enough to get others to do it. They also will challenge strategic intent, but are smart enough to understand the need for unity of purpose. and so are unlikely to change it until they themselves are in charge.They are designed for the top roles.
Actually, there aren’t many lazy top managers, but the ability to think and to truly delegate is an important skill for senior management, so nurture and develop them too.

Update: I've learnt that Von Manstein (and others) paraphrased Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800-1891) who categorised his officer corps into four types.
  • Intelligent & Lazy: I make them my Commanders because they make the right thing happen, and find the easiest way to accomplish the mission.
  • Intelligent & Energetic: I make them my General Staff Officers because they make intelligent plans that make the right things happen.
  • Stupid & Lazy: There are menial tasks that require an officer to perform.. and they follow orders without causing much harm
  • Stupid & Energetic: These are dangerous and must be eliminated. They cause things to happen, but the wrong things, and so cause trouble.
First published 6 March 2008