A ** general tells his subordinate, a * general, that he will be promoted, if they can win this battle. At first, the * general pushs back saying this position is invulnerable, his army will not be able to take it to the germans but the ** general finally achieves to sell it to his subordinate by convincing him of all the personal benefits he would get from such a victory.
The * general explains to his lieutenant colonel (Kirk Douglas) how the battle can be won. By the time, here is how the battle was planned: in the first 25% of the no man's land, we will lose 33% of our forces, 67% in the middle, 85% when getting close to the german positions, we should secure the place with 15% of the remaining force and wait 24h for back-up forces to help us keep the position. That was the plan but here is how it went: The german fire response was so intense that the french troops did not have time to leave the trenches, they were dead by the time they were showing up.
First Leadership lesson: By the time of the assault, the lieutenant colonel was leading the charge, he was not behind, he was in front of his soldiers encouraging them to leave the trenches and run the assault.
The ** general, observing the battle from a backstage position where his life was not threatened in any way, was so frustrated that his forces were not leaving the trenches that he ordered his artillery to fire up the french positions in order to "wake up and give guts" to all these cowards. The artillery commander actually refused to obey the order unless he received it in writing, which he did not.
The battle was lost and was perceived as a disaster by the french general commandment. The * general was so upset that he decided to make an example with all these french coward soldiers: 1 every ten would be randomly selected and go to martial court for "high betrayal", which in a time of war, is synonymous to being shot (this is where decimation comes from by the way). However, the lieutenant colonel stood up and took in person the defense of his own guys in front of the martial court. He called in front of his hierarchy the martial court a "joke", which some day France would be ashamed for.
Second Leadership lesson: It takes more than brain to be a leader, it also takes heart and guts to stand up for what you believe in.
He did not change history, his guys were shot by their trenches mates. But that was not the end of the story...
The lieutenant colonel brought to the attention of the ** general that an order had been given by the * one to fire up the french positions. At first, the ** general did not believe it and called it slander. However, there were witnesses and some artillery soldiers accepted to testify in writing. The Lieutenant colonel brought back to the case to the ** general and the * general lost his position as commanding officer. We are getting close to the end but it is not quite finished yet...
Then the ** general told the lieutenant colonel that he will be promoted to * general in replacement of the one that just lost his position. But the lieutenant colonel rejected the offer. The ** general was puzzled, he then said: "But why a hell did you bring that case to me if you were not looking for that position? If you did it by humanity, you are an idiot so tell me why..." and the lieutenant colonel to answer:
"General, for not knowing the answer to that question, I pity you..."
Third leadership lesson and one that I will personally never forget: "For not knowing the answer to that question, I pity you..."
I have seen in this war movie extraordinary leadership lessons. If you never watched it, I would encourage you to give it a try. What I have learnt in that movie is that there is a fundamental difference between Leadership and Management:
- When you manage, you are not putting your life or your own belongings at risk. At best, you are risking the company money that has been borrowed to you by the shareholders
- When you lead, you are ready to give everything you have to do it right, because you have the fundamental belief that this is the right thing to do and this by and for itself justify your dedication and life commitment
This is so fundamentally different...