As a manager, the second you have to counsel someone, you should realize you hired the wrong man. As a leader, the second you don't counsel someone, you should realize you probably aren't a good leader. When dealing with military life, I think dealing with personnel should almost always been on a leadership, and not a management level. According to MCDP 6-11, Leading Marines, Leadership is a “combination of the intangible elements of our ethos and the more tangible elements of our leadership philosophy.”
It is a strong habit among historians, especially popular historians, to place emphasis on operational history—minimizing the significance of peacetime years. This is a serious mistake, since those peacetime years are the ones during which critical organizational decisions that will influence the prosecution of the next conflict are made. In the years of peace, “services recruit troops and develop new weapons systems, units conduct training exercises, enlisted men and officers receive education and training, and organizations write the doctrinal manuals and publications that will guide the conduct of future operations.” Returning to 6-11, we read: “If Marines do not have the moral courage in peacetime to meet consistently the high standards and expectations of the Marine Corps, then they are not likely to have the moral courage to make the difficult decisions that may determine the outcome of a battle or campaign.”
General Vandegrift I believe exhibited both traits, and would not have been overly offended by a reference to himself as a “manager.” The time he spent both during the interwar and postwar years in Washington were very much years of management—managing property, money, and the kind of organizational changes mentioned in the paragraph above. I think it is fair to say that one manages materiel, and leads men. Vandegrift certainly did both over the 33 years he spent on active duty with the Corps.
However, he is of course best remembered for being a leader, not a manager, and that’s how I think all Marines feel. According to MCDP 6-11, “The primary goal of Marine Corps leadership is to instill in all Marines the fact that we are warriors first. The only reason the United States of America needs a Marine Corps is to fight and win wars.” Besides the fact that this line is almost a verbatim quote from what General Vandegrift himself said to Congress in 1946, it is an attitude easily seen throughout Vandegrift’s career. Spending 14 hours in the saddle every day, traveling from outpost to outpost in Haiti, just so he could speak to his men—that is leadership. Living in a tent, in the mud, and eating the same fare as one’s men while training (and the nearest comfortable city a mere 32 miles away, an easy distance) is not management, but a demonstration of the willingness to LEAD the men into battle, not merely tell them where to go. According to his aide, General Vandegrift was ever-present with his Division once they began preparations for deployment to the Pacific: “Responding to General Vandegrift’s constant scrutiny and supervision, the division advanced rapidly toward a state of readiness.”
Finally, of course, General Vandegrift did not win the Medal of Honor of Guadalcanal for his management skills. To the Australians and British in Wellington, before the battle, General Vandegrift’s aide “tried, without saying so, to convey the impression that Archer Vandegrift was not a man who would bring a Marine division halfway around the world to surrender it to the Japanese without a fight.” They were convinced—as were the Japanese and then the rest of the world soon after. This was a man who endured the hardships, took the brunt of the political heat and drama from the Navy, made the tough decisions, and was known and admired by everyone that served under him. No one follows a manager into battle.
1.Headquarters United States Marine Corps, MCWP 6-11, Leading Marines (January 1995, 30.
2. Damian Fidelion,THE ROAD TO FMFM 1: THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS AND MANEUVER WARFARE DOCTRINE, 1979-1989 (Unpublished Thesis submitted to the History Department of the University of Kansas, 2008), 21.
3. MCWP 6-11, 61.
4. Ibid., 93.
5. William Twining, No Bended Knee (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1996), 10.
6. Ibid, 19.