Great Books Distilled: Books by History's Greatest Innovators, Founders, and Investors

The page is a reading list sharing the best books written by history's greatest innovators, founders, and investors. This is a reading list for people who don’t have time for unimportant books—which should be everyone. I only list the best books I've read and recommend.

All Book Summaries

For the best books that I read, I go through the painstaking effort to put together and publish my personal notes including highlights, excerpts, and takeaways. You get the best 5% of the ideas in these books in a form that takes 20 minutes at most to read.

Great Books by Category

These are the best books to read, listed by category. Along with a few collections of rare and hard-to-find speeches, lectures, talks, interviews, letters, and memos that are a great way to go deeper.

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Daniel Scrivner

Guidelines for the Leader and the Commander: Leadership Principles by General Bruce C. Clarke

This is part of my book summary collection which includes The Essays of Warren Buffett, Poor Charlie's Almanack, Special Operations Mental Toughness, and 50+ more. Browse them all to find the best ideas from history's greatest books →

This is my book summary of Guidelines for the Leader and the Commander by General Bruce C. Clarke. It contains many of my favorite speeches and writing on leadership from one of history's greatest generals.This summary also includes my favorite quotes, excerpts, stories, and ideas from the book.

Guidelines for the Leader and the Commander is an enduring classic. Written by the Army’s premier trainer of the twentieth century, this is a wide-ranging collection of principles and maxims to guide the building, training, and leading of any organization, with a focus on the individuals who make up that organization. Clarke intended the book to enlighten and instruct leaders, and those who aspire to leadership, in every profession and every walk of life. Thoughtful as well as concrete, pithy, and often conversational, Clarke's book resonates today.

On this page:

The Ground Combat Soldier

The paramount concern of the Army is the ground combat soldier. He is the focal point of all our efforts. Organizing, equipping, training, sustaining and supporting him so that he can perform his indispensable role in combat is the Army role.

This role is equally significant in any kind of war--hot or cold. It is just as important in general war as it is in limited war. For our Nation to entertain any notion to the contrary would be dangerous.

The danger could be social as well as military.

More than any other category of personnel in the Armed Forces, the ground combat soldier comes from the general populace. He is the private citizen under arms--the clenched fist of his people.

It is by no idle chance in the history of mankind that the course of democracy parallels the importance accorded the ground combat soldier in the military forces of nations. It is no exaggeration to say that the basic freedoms we now enjoy are closely related to his ascending importance on the battlefield since the Battle of Crécy. Nor is it an exaggeration, in my opinion, to say that the preservation of those freedoms will continue to be oriented by his place in the sun.

Only when men from all of the people are willing and ready to fight and die for freedom does freedom have meaning for them. Only then does democracy thrive. That is the inexorable lesson of history.

Beguiled by the mechanical marvels of an age, it is easy for people to forget the true character of the ground combat soldier's role in war. When free men have been so beguiled in the past, they have slipped back into vassalage. For the ability of the ground combat soldier to play his part in the social scheme of things depends upon the part he is given in the military scheme of things.

It will be a sorry day for all mankind in this supersonic nuclear age of ours should the ground combat soldier ever be deprived of his rightful place in the hearts and minds and military forces of his people.

In our efforts to avert this danger, a one-Army attitude must pervade all ranks. The ground combat soldier is not a guardsman, nor a Regular, nor a reservist, nor a selectee. He is simply the American fighting man on the one-Army team. I appeal to every member of the team--civilian and military--to give his cause the enthusiastic support merited by its vital importance to our country.

Bruce C. Clarke
General, USA

Command Responsibilities


When an individual assumes command of a unit, large or small, he steps into one of the most interesting, and the most challenging, assignments a member of the armed forces can have. Here is a job into which a man can sink his teeth. Here is a job where initiative, originality, hard work, fidelity, and human understanding can pay off in the richest dividends. This chapter includes many matters that are connected with the ability of the commander to train his unit.

So You Want A Command!

How often have we heard an officer say, "I'd do anything to get a command'? Have you ever wondered if he really meant it? Have you wondered if he really would make a good commander? We have often heard the expression, "A good commander is born, not made." This is not entirely true. By exercising certain principles, the vast majority of officers can become good commanders.

Let us see if consideration of the following "Twenty Questions" will provide us with some guidelines. If the answers to these questions are "yes," the potential commander's statement is sincere and he should fight to get--and should be given--a command. He will never have an assignment that will give him greater satisfaction or one that will enable him to contribute more to the Army and our country.

Twenty Questions

  1. Is the officer seeking command duty willing to devote hours of the day and night, seven days a week, to his command?
  2. Is his wife willing to take an active role in helping to make a happy "Army community" in their unit area?
  3. Is his family willing to be secondary if necessary, to the company, battalion, group, regiment, combat command, brigade, or division?
  4. Is he willing to learn, teach, stress, and live with the "fundamentals" necessary to make his unit good and still believe his great talents for "bigger things" are not being wasted?
  5. Does he like to be with young people? Can he live with their energy, points of view, and the problems they create?
  6. Is he willing to take the hard knocks that come from carrying the responsibilities for the failures of his subordinates?
  7. Can he juggle at the same time all the balls of training, maintenance, tests, administration, inspections, property, communications, messes, supply, athletics, marksmanship, discipline, and public relations without dropping any of them?
  8. Is he able to do many things concurrently, rather than being a "consecutive" doer? Can he manage a complex job?
  9. Can he receive and carry out orders? Can he follow orders as well as give them?
  10. Can he stand tough competition from like units and still retain a spirit of cooperation and teamwork with them?
  11. Is he physically and emotionally fit to carry the load?
  12. Does he have the courage to make and stand by tough decisions?
  13. Are he and his family willing to "live in a goldfish bowl" where their actions are closely observed by both subordinate and superior?
  14. Is he still enthusiastic and cheerful when confronted with seemingly impossible tasks to perform with inadequate means?
  15. Is he willing to leave a warm office to check and supervise training, maintenance, and many other activities of his unit?
  16. Is he willing to take responsibility himself and correct the situation rather than blame it on the staff of a higher headquarters or on a subordinate when things go wrong in his unit?
  17. Is he willing to do his best with "what he has" even though what he has seems inadequate?
  18. Is be confident he can produce a superior unit with the usual run of manpower? Can he inspire personnel to produce outstanding accomplishments? ing only mediocre results?
  19. Is he willing to take a chance on being relieved for attaining only mediocre results?
  20. Does he really want command rather than just "to get command on his record''?

What Does the Soldier Expect from His Commander?

Having dealt with the prerequisites of command, I offer these thoughts on what soldiers look for in their commanders, regardless of branch of service.

HONEST, JUST, AND FAIR TREATMENT. Men admire a strict officer if he is also just. An officer who tries to be a "good fellow" loses his grip early. An officer cannot be expected to know everything. He cannot bluff his men and retain their respect. When he does not know, he should say so and then find and announce the answer.

A commander should administer punishment in an impersonal way and to a degree that fits the circumstances and the offense. When a man pays his debt, the commander should forget the incident.

COURAGE. Every man experiences fear in a crisis. The commander cannot show it. He must fortify himself by learning to control his emotions.

CONSIDERATION DUE THEM AS MATURE, PROFESSIONAL SOLDIERS. Regardless of age or grade, soldiers should be treated as mature individuals. They are men engaged in an honorable profession and deserve to be treated as such.

Military courtesies start between officers. Observation of these courtesies between seniors and subordinates is not belittling to either; they are evidences of the alertness, pride, and good manners of your men.

The commander's rank should be used to serve his subordinates. It is not a reward and not a license to exercise idiosyncrasies. Rank has one object; to enable the officer to fulfill his responsibilities. Subordinates expect the commander to play his part according to his position. They do not begrudge him his rank or prerogatives if he uses them in the interest of his subordinates and superiors.

PERSONAL INTEREST TAKEN IN THEM AS INDIVIDUALS. A good officer will know the names, background, and individual characteristics of his men. He must have a genuine personal interest in them or they will not have it in him. Each individual has problems. There is no easier way of getting a grip on men than by helping them solve personal problems that give them great concern. Anofficer should not, however, be too familiar with his men. Good soldiers do not expect it, and usually resent it. It is not necessary to call soldiers by their first names even if the officer sleeps in the same foxhole with them. (The Commander's attention is also invited to DA Pamphlet 355-26, "Your Soldiers," by General Bruce Clarke.)

There is nothing wrong today with the following instructions written by Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge, and published by the Continental Congress:


A captain cannot be too careful of the company the state has committed to his charge. He must pay the greatest attention to the health of his men, their discipline, arms, accouterments, ammunition, clothes, and necessaries.

His first object should be to gain the love of his men by treating them with every possible kindness and humanity, inquiring into their complaints, and, when well founded, seeing them redressed. He should know every man of his company by name and character. He should often visit those who are sick, speak tenderly to them, see that the public provision, whether of medicine or diet, is duly administered, and procure them besides such comforts and conveniences as are in his power. The attachment that arises from this kind of attention to the sick and wounded is almost inconceivable; it will, moreover, be the means of preserving the lives of many valuable men.


He should endeavor to gain the love of his men, by his attention to everything which may contribute to their health and convenience; he should often visit them at different hours; inspect their manner of living; see that their provisions are good and well cooked, and as far as possible oblige them to take their meals at regulated hours. He should pay attention to their complaints, and when well founded, endeavor to get them redressed; but discourage them from complaining on every frivolous occasion.

LOYALTY. Loyalty to superiors and subordinates is a basic requirement. Criticism of a commander's superiors in front of subordinates lays him open to the same treatment. He should stand up for his men as he expects them to stand up for him.

An officer's presence when the conditions are unpleasant and when the going is tough--"sharing the situation with the men"--means a great deal to them.

The commander should act as a buffer between superiors and sub-ordinates. He should protect his men from harassment that comes from above, but still get the job done.

THAT THEIR NEEDS BE ANTICIPATED AND MET. A good soldier has needs, both spiritual and physical, and a commander should do everything possible to anticipate and meet those needs. At the same time, he should provide all the comforts and privileges practicable. This is not meant to imply that he should coddle his men or treat them as babies. Such things as a hot meal when it is not expected, unit par-ties, liberal pass privileges, and good recreational facilities are more to the point.

TO BE KEPT INFORMED AND TOLD THE "REASON WHY." The commander should keep his men informed at all times; tell them the reasons behind decisions affecting them. Many jobs seem purposeless unless the facts behind them are known. He should continually take action to offset rumors and speculation by giving his men all the information he can.

A WELL THOUGHT OUT PROGRAM OF TRAINING, WORK, AND RECREATION. The commander should keep a balance between training and recreation. Too much of either becomes a drag on the men. Logical progression of training helps keep men from becoming confused.

DEMANDS COMMENSURATE WITH CAPABILITIES; NEITHER TOO GREAT NOR TOO SMALL. A commander should not overload his men with unnecessary work. On the other hand, letting men become bored because they are not working enough is just as bad. Neither men as individuals, nor units should be expected to accomplish impossible tasks.


  1. Give orders in a manner which indicates you expect compliance.
  2. Do not issue orders you cannot enforce.
  3. Give clear, complete, correct orders, and follow them up. Only by long and careful training can the commander achieve perfection in giving orders.
  4. Ambiguity, vagueness, and incompleteness of orders are to blame for most disobedience and failure to comply.
  5. The words of an order indicate what is to be done; the manner in which it is delivered generates the spirit in which it will be carried out.
  6. Oral orders should be repeated back. Failure to do so will most assuredly result in grave misunderstandings.
  7. Only by long and careful training can men learn to receive, obey, and pass on orders to others.
  8. Lack of orders does not relieve a commander from acting.
  9. You must strive to maintain a complete picture of the situation so you can take suitable action in the absence of orders.
  10. It is a wise officer who refrains from criticism until he can make logical, constructive suggestions.
  11. An officer should be as good as his word. He should not make promises he cannot keep, or make decisions he cannot support.

The Combat Commander

POSITIVE LEADERSHIP. Battle appears to add peculiar problems to command, but when further analyzed the problems are merely magnifications of those present in training. The great difference between combat and training is the presence of danger and confusion in combat. These two obstacles can be overcome only by positive leadership and by developing a positive and automatic reaction in the individual soldier.

These positive traits of the commander and of the soldier are acquired during training--training in peace, training in wartime before combat, training during battle; and by mental factors not easily described--desire to overcome the enemy, devotion to country and to organization, and personal devotion to the commander. When a disciplined unit is spurred by the mental drives mentioned, it fights not only well, but brilliantly.

Battle is fought for "real money and for keeps." Battles are won by teamwork--not by individuals acting alone. The only teamwork that can stand up under the confusion, the constant danger, the feeling of fear, and the physical exhaustion of battle is instinctive teamwork.

Success in combat is largely due to endurance on the battlefield. The day-after-day strain of living in dirt, of going without sleep and food, of the constant threat of death will cause the man who is physically or mentally weak to quit. Fatigue makes cowards; men in good physical condition are the last to tire.

The importance of endurance on the battlefield is underlined by Grant's philosophy, the idea that in every battle there may come a moment when each side is fought out and ready to quit, and the belief that in such a moment victory will go to the side which is able to make one final effort. Faced with disaster at Fort Donelson, he said, when there was a lull in the fighting, "The one who attacks first now will be victorious, and the enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me."

In the heat of a fire fight, the poor commander will not be able to lead men into danger, to make them attack or keep order when he and his men are under hostile artillery fire. He won't be able to execute his plans. Instead his men will forget teamwork and follow their own plans in fighting for survival. Therefore, you must take every opportunity to make your men confident of your ability to command, and of the skill and toughness of your unit.

UNIT MORALE. The prospect of entering battle puts every soldier under severe nervous strain. Dangers, real and imaginary, are thick around him. The commander can overcome much of this strain and strengthen the mental endurance of his men by teaching them in advance what to expect. An event foreseen and prepared for will have little harmful effect.

In combat, you really see the critical importance of high morale and ésprit de corps. Morale must be high enough to stand the shock--and the boredom--of combat. Every man must strongly believe that what he is doing is right. He must have supreme confidence that he can deal with any situation--that he is a better fighter than the enemy.

Esprit de corps is unit morale. Every man must feel that his unit is a superb fighting outfit, and that he, like the rest, will sacrifice even life itself for the unit. The spirit is often the difference between mediocre and superior armies. It was strong in the Roman legions and in the French troops under Napoleon.

Recognize, though, that the commander must inspire beyond group esprit. Only deep personal conviction, springing from identification with a cause, will drive a man forward when his unit is destroyed or scattered.

PERSONAL EXAMPLE. The commander should be a model soldier. He must master the technique of war as it fits his assignment; he must improve and expand his technical knowledge. The commander must strive to make it possible for every soldier to say, truthfully, "The Old Man always knows the right thing to do." In addition, he must exhibit daily a fine example of stamina and courage. Besides his own example, the higher commander is also represented by his staff officers; they too must reflect the superior qualities of their commander.

Above all, set the proper example.

Leadership vs Popularity

The Example of a Strong Leader

During the World War Il period, I served a division com tor a peas his Chief of Staff and later as one of his combat commanders for a period of over two years. He was a strong character and a strong leader. He had firm ideas about things that he liked and disliked and placed requirements on his officers and men in the fields of wearing equipment and uniforms, tactical disposition during field training, the care and handling of vehicles, and other things, many of which were unpopular.

At one time in an evening discussion period, I pointed out these requirements to him and asked him if he felt the effort that he put into them was not excessive for the practical results which he achieved. His answer gave me an insight into the problems of training and preparing troops for emergencies or battle which I have never forgotten.

He stated that in case of an emergency or in battle, a commander was required to place upon his officers and men many requirements that were unpopular and for which time was not available for hesitation. The thought of being popular or unpopular should never enter the mind of a commander. He pointed out that a commander who was unable to obtain compliance with unpopular requirements from his officers and men during training and during preparation for combat, would not be able to obtain prompt compliance with his requirements to meet emergencies or to attack an enemy in battle. He said that the requirements he placed in the training period served three purposes: they conditioned his command to carry out promptly his instructions; the way which his men carried out these requirements served as a constant measure to him of his hold on his officers and his men; and they--with other things--helped to instill a fierce pride in the division.

I might add that this officer was one of the most respected division commanders that I have known, and even now--over fifteen years after he left the Division--he is the most popular man present when the Division Association has a convention.

An Unpopular Requirement That Paid Off

Later on when I was placed in command of a combat command of the division, I remembered the procedure often used at Leavenworth of attacking at first light in the morning. One of the reasons for doing this was in the hopes of catching the enemy unprepared to resist an attack. If we were taught this, probably the enemy did likewise. Because of this, whenever I had my combat command in the field for training, I required every man to be up, dressed, and manning his battle station at first light. Communications were checked all the way from the squad level to me and reports of readiness were relayed from the squad level to me. After daylight--and if it was decided that no attack was probable--the troops were permitted to eat breakfast and then proceed with the day's activities.

This early morning "STAND TO" was never popular and there would be many requests to relax the requirements of it, particularly for men who had been on guard or night duty. These requests were never granted because I felt that if we were overrun while still asleep, the enemy would not spare the men who had been late in getting to bed.

This procedure was followed in my command throughout the war. I can say that even in the face of the enemy it was not particularly popular. However, it did save elements of my command on several occasions from being overrun and destroyed in the early morning. At one time, a portion of the 37th Tank Battalion was saved from destruction by an enemy tank brigade attack in the fog at first light because it was ready.

This particular requirement was probably most unpopular in my combat command headquarters and there was considerable griping about it on many occasions. However, one morning when my command was in the rear of the enemy lines, east of Nancy, the headquarters personnel were alert at first light, men were manning their defensive positions, weapons had been checked and communications had been established. In particular, the three tank destroyers attached to my headquarters were in position--loaded and manned. At first light, a platoon of enemy tanks came into the headquarters area--which in the case of a combat command headquarters was not very large. The tank destroyers immediately took them under fire and succeeded in knocking out three of the tanks. The other two withdrew. Our loss during this engagement was only one tank destroyer which was destroyed by a direct hit from one of the enemy tanks.

There was much discussion of this attack in the headquarters in the days which followed. One of the men stated that he never realized how crowded a combat command headquarters could be when an enemy tank platoon joined it.

I heard no more comments in my headquarters about the requirement for everybody being dressed, alert, and in position at daylight.

The purpose of this account is to point out that a commander and a leader owes a responsibility to his men to require them to do things which are for their own benefit--and for the benefit of the command as a whole--even though the requirements are not popular.

Leadership, Commandership, Generalship, and Followership

I can assure you that it's a great privilege for me to return time Command and General Staff College even though this is the first time I have been permitted to be on this platform in civilian clothes. I’ve been here over a long period of time from time to time.

I entered here as a student 24 years ago. I've taken a great interest in the Command and General Staff College, because I was able to what in the field of Army Education on several occasions. I don't know that there is any institution in America that is so favorably known worldwide in military circles as your College.

And while I can't think of many things that I contributed to the College, I did contribute one thing that I think was important. I was responsible for changing the name of it from the Command and General Staff School to the Command and General Staff College. Now you may think that to be a play in semantics, but it isn't; it's important because, after all, you gentlemen here are getting the equivalent of your Master's degree in your profession.

I wanted to just talk with you this morning. I didn't come here to deliver a lecture. I came to talk to you about certain aspects of the job that you're learning to do. After all, this is the Command and General Staff College and that name was not arrived at without some thought, and of course it sets forth your mission for being here.

I was a troop commander for 13 straight years before I retired and that encompasses the career of a great many of you people, so that I didn't come here today to play over again the record that I think a lot of you have heard me play many times.


You have a very good course at the College in leadership and l assure you that I'll not repeat that or go into the attributes that are required in the field of leadership. I think they are very well known.

They're not very complicated really. The art of leadership is only complicated to the theorists, it's not complicated to practical men.There are only a few, really a very few, simple rules and precepts that build makeup of character that are necessary to be better than a satisfactory leader and I'm sure that each one of you has passed that qualification or else you wouldn't be here.

I would like to go further into this particular field and point out to you that I believe we have become inexact in the use of terminology, because I was reading last night a memorandum which said that we teach leadership at the Command and General Staff College from the level of the division commander on up. I take issue with that statement for the reason that leadership is a peculiar art or a technique in itself and a division commander is not basically a leader.

He is a commander and I'm going to point out to you that you should adjust your thinking to a different point of view. I will talk to you briefly about what I call commandership and generalship which are quite different from being a leader.

Commandership and Generalship

If you will go to the title of the people who are in charge of military echelons, starting at the bottom, you'll first come to a squad leader, then a platoon leader, and every other title after that has the word commander after it. Why was that done? There are no company leaders; there are no battalion leaders; there are company, battalion, and brigade commanders and then you get to division commanding generals which is a further progression.

I'd like to point out to you that I hope that you will graduate with an appreciation of the transition that is necessary to go from leadership to commandership. I hope you don't think this old man now is involved in semantics because I hope I'm not. It's an important thing and a lot of people have never bridged it. They're still exercising leadership as company commanders or even when they get higher and by so doing they're bypassing or poorly using their subordinate commanders and staffs.

You came here to learn commandership or generalship and that involves the proper organization and utilization of subordinate commanders and staffs to accomplish what you want done with your command, and the technique is much different than the technique of getting in front of a platoon and saying, "Follow me," which is leadership.

But when you're in a different position with reference to your soldiers, then you become more or less a director and the technique of directorship is far different from the technique of saying, "Follow me."

I will give you a homely illustration. Suppose that you have a horse at A that you want to move to B. You take hold of the halter shank and he follows you on down the road; you're the leader. But if you get on and ride him you use different techniques; you use different aids; you use your legs and other things, that I learned in the ancient days when we had riding at West Point, to accomplish your purpose and I would say that that might be termed commandership. You're then the commander of the horse. You're not his leader but the purpose is the same, to move him from A to B. Now if you're affluent enough to own a sulky and drive him with reins and with a whip in your hand, then that's generalship. I bring that up because it isn't too far fetched in the problem that I would like to bring to you.

I will give you an historical example of a fellow who was a tremendous leader during the Civil War, probably one of the greatest leaders of the Civil War, and I use the term leader in the sense that I have used it up to now. A great leader in the Civil War was Hood who commanded the Texas Brigade. He was a most fantastic troop leader and sometime, if you'd like to look into it further, there's a very good book entitled, "The Gallant Hood," by John P. Dyer. Hood was a leader of the old school; in front of his men with his saber in his hand. That's how he handled his brigade, and it was an effective organization.

It was inevitable that a man with such capabilities would be promoted. He went up rapidly throughout the war. He ranked next to Lee at the end of the war, but when the war was over he had lost his command. It was a sorry ending to a man who had never mastered the transition from leadership to commandership to generalship.

When you move into the field of commandership, as against the field of leadership, you go to the techniques, or the art, of how you use your subordinate commanders to get the most out of them--the art and technique of how you organize and use your staff in order to enable you to carry out your job of directing, organizing and handling operations.

CHAIN OF RESPONSIBILITY. And also, you must realize, as you go up in the various echelons of organization of the Army, from the squad on up, you become increasingly removed from the individual soldier and your influence on the individual soldier no longer is carried on by an eyeball-to-eyeball approach. It's carried on through echelons of your command down to him, and you become increasingly just an image which you develop in several different ways; but you get into the a eld of proper staff organization and staff relationship because that is a very important part of commandership and generalship.

In your recent Military Review, there is an article on "Faulty Staff Relationships," I hope it will cause you to give a little thought to that problem because it is an important one.

You come to one of the most important parts of commandership and leadership, and that is establishing a chain of responsibility so that for ry man in your organization knows who he works for and who works for him.

That is basic. How many organizations have you been in where that wasn't known? I've been in several. I had no idea who I worked for or who made out my efficiency report. After all, there is one basic rule in the Army that you can't violate and I, over a period of 44 years, have tried to violate many of them. I have been successful in a few, but this one I have never been successful in, and that is you work and devote your loyalty to the man who makes out your efficiency report and the man who endorses it, If you don't do that, you're never going to be a general.

Establishing a chain of responsibility is just as important in your staff as it is in your command. If you don't have that, your headquarters mills around and creates what I call "command and staff inertia." That is a state of frustration and lack of purpose that exists in many military staffs.

Then of course it comes down to the art of commandership or generalship as to how you issue your directives or how you project your desires and will down through the command. It comes out in directives and so forth, which is an art within itself and which I am sorry to say we sometimes don't do very well. We could do a lot better than we're doing in that field. I've worked at times for a commander for whom I felt I wasn't doing a good job because the truth of the matter was I didn't know what he wanted me to accomplish.

IMPROVING YOUR UNIT. Now we get to the point of making progress as a commander. I can't conceive of anybody who takes over a company, a battalion, a brigade, or a division, or a corps, or a field army, who doesn't sit down and say to himself, how will I impress upon my superiors, the men who make out my efficiency report, that I am a good commander?

How do I do that? I've seen it done every way that you can think of in my career, but I would suggest to you that the best way to do that in a military organization is through the exercise of what I call "little pluses"--of making a little progress in every field, every day. Over a period of time, if you do that, your organization will tighten up, your organization will become good, and you'll gradually come up with the understanding and the reputation of really being a good commander. You will also not create turbulence which detracts from the effectiveness of your unit.

I've seen people walk into an organization and immediately start to make headlines. I would like to point out to you a great truth in the military that "He who lives by headlines is destroyed by headlines." Remember that if you start seeking headlines and creating images of yourself as a superman, pretty soon somebody will find a hole in your armor and when he does he will certainly give it to you. That follows from the rule about the monkey who climbs up a pole--the higher he gets, the more of his rear he shows to the people who are below him and that often goes for a person who goes up the chain of command in the echelons of the Army•

"CHANNELS OF SUGGESTION." I hope that I have impressed upon you that there is a technique in commandership and generalship--techniques that are different from leadership although the characteristics of the individual as to honesty and sincerity and all those other things are just as applicable. You have to master the transition as you go up.There's a little different technique being a company commander than from being a battalion commander. You have a bigger staff; you have more senior subordinate commanders and as you go up, that of course increases.

We talk about a chain of command--I have conscientiously tried throughout my career to live and conduct my job in such a way that I didn't exercise control of my organization through channels of command. I exercised it through channels of suggestion.

I think that is very important and I only used the channels of command when I wanted to discipline somebody, and I didn't have to do that very often. I figured that if I couldn't run an organization by getting things done by suggestion then I had failed as a commander. I commanded the troops of 12 nations as a corps commander in Korea. I didn't have any strong chain of command between me and the allied troops. If I put out something that I wanted done that violated their national ideas they didn't pay very much attention to it. In that case what are you going to do next?

I was down at the Infantry School and commented on this not long ago and one captain got up and he said, "General, I have listened very carefully to your channel of suggestion approach and I'm familiar with it.I served in your command in Europe and I think you have to be a very powerful suggester to make it work." Maybe that's true.


I want to get from there now to another subject and then I'll end up my presentation. That is the topic that fits right along with leadership, what I call followership. Everybody who is a leader or commander of any echelon is also a follower. You never get in the hierarchy of the Army to the point where you are not a follower.

The Chief of Staff of the Army is a follower; he follows the desires and directives of the President, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and so forth. Even the President of the United States is a follower in that he follows public opinion.

What you are today, each one of you, is the result of 35 to 40 years of following whereby you have taken into your makeup ideas, instruction, and concepts; and through a process of discernment, acceptance, and elimination you have stored away in your makeup certain characteristics, ideas, and procedures and you have discarded others.

In that process of sifting the good from the poor, or what you consider the good from the poor, you have created as of today your present makeup and character which is you as an individual. If you have attained good characteristics and a storeroom of good ideas, learning, and concepts that you can use effectively in the future, you have been a good follower. If you haven't you'll not be a good leader or a good commander.

It follows from that, that you must, through this process of discernment and storing away, create in yourself a balanced man--whereby you can handle concurrently all the different parts of the job. You don't concentrate on one and forget the other, such as maintenance; you don't concentrate on marksmanship and forget something else. The best organizations in the American Army are the organizations that are good or better in everything. They may not make many headlines, they may not be "superior" in any one thing, but they are our best organizations. These are the type of organizations that we want to develop in the Army.

I have tried to lead your thinking through the transition from leadership to commandership and generalship and to point out to you wherein followership is very important in this process of your development.

Progressing Up The Pyramid Of Life

It has been truthfully said that, at the end, when one looks back on his life, he should measure his success by the number of rungs up the ladder of life he has climbed since he started, and not by the particular rung on which he finished.

The basic concept of our Government under the Constitution is that all men are created equal. This means not that all men are equal, for they are far from it. It only means that all men should have equal opportunities and rights under our laws. This concept is a great step in the progress of man.

When any group of men such as Army officers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, clerks, or accountants start out in any corporation or in other organizations, they fit into a pyramid which is broad at the base, but becomes smaller and smaller as they approach the peak.

Assuming that those people in each category start with approximately equal backgrounds, there is a selection process which starts as soon as they tend to rise in the pyramid of life.

Also, assuming that the selection of those who rise in the pyramid of life is based upon ability, experience, need for special capabilities, and leadership, how does one prepare himself for being chosen to advance in competition with his associates and colleagues?

Everybody who is a leader, director, or commander at any echelon of an organization is also a follower. He never gets to the point where he is not.

The Chief of Staff of the Army is a follower--he follows the desires and directives of the President, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Even the President of the United States is a follower in that he follows public opinion.

What each one of us is today is the result of years of following whereby we have taken into our makeup knowledge, ideas, instruction, and concepts. Through a process of discernment, acceptance, and elimination, we have stored away in our personal ability banks certain characteristics, ideas, and procedures, and we have discarded others as not being worthy.

In the process of sifting the good from the poor, or what we considered the good from the poor, we have created, as of today, our present makeup and a character which is ours as individuals. If we have attained good characteristics and a storeroom of good ideas, learning, techniques, and concepts that we can use effectively in the future, we have been good followers. We have a good basis for being successful leaders and, in all probability, will advance. A good follower is able to react quickly and effectively to an emergency or a crisis. Hence, he has the potential to become a fine military commander.

This process must be continuous during our active careers if we are to continue to grow in judgment and balance. Some call this experience, but it is more than that. It is the constant and critical sound evaluation of experience that causes us to progress in stature and move up the pyramid of life.

Early in life, some members of society fall into limited categories due to handicaps of opportunities, health, and physical and mental ability. These people start life with ceilings over them that few are able to pierce.

But how about those whose opportunities, education, and apparent ability seem to start them off on common, equal footings as they begin to move up the pyramid of life? Each one eventually reaches his own peak and levels off at various distances from the top.

Very few have an apparent ceiling over them at the start, but they develop ceilings at various levels as they go along. What causes this leveling off process on the part of an individual? What factors tend to cause this ceiling to form over him?

Wrong decisions.
Wasted opportunities.
Deterioration of attitude and enthusiasm.
Excesses; lack of self-control.
Lack of honesty of purpose.
Tendency toward lowered standards.
Poor ethics.
Loss of self-respect.
Loss of motivation and ambition.
Lack of ability to express himself orally or in writing.
Poor associations.
Wrong scale of values.
Failure in carrying out responsibility.
Lack of loyalty, up or down.
Unfortunate family situations.
Deterioration of physical condition.
Bad habits.
Poor financial management.
Disregard of rules.
Failure to keep up with progress in his field.

Poor fellowship is a great contributor to ceiling formation. Once a ceiling is formed, or starts to form, it is difficult to break through.

A few do break through despite handicaps, however. There are those who would try to dispel these ceilings by social laws and values. To be sure, they are partially successful on the lower reaches of the pyramid of life, but not as they reach the apex of the pyramid. They only warp the shape of the pyramid at certain levels. The Bible says that many are called but few are chosen. It is ever thus as we try to progress up the pyramid or ladder of life.

Will you wait for it? Or will you go get it?

There is more than one school of thought concerning how a commander can acquire reliable information upon which to base his actions. One school contends that the commander should analyze reports that come to him from his subordinate units and his staff. Another advocates that the commander go see for himself. Yet another endorses a combination of these methods.

As a commander from company to army group, and as an observer of others holding such positions in three wars, I have come to certain conclusions myself. Moreover, since my retirement from the Army, I have worked as a consultant to research organizations making studies of command, control and communications problems for the Army. The results of this active and retired experience might be helpful to students and practitioners who would like to excel in the art and techniques of commandership and generalship.

Command and How to Keep Informed

During World War II, it was my privilege and good fortune to command combat commands (brigades) in two armored divisions engaged in European combat. Looking back, it seems to me more than ever that my best information, on both our own forces and the enemy's, was obtained by visiting or observing subordinate commanders. This was done either by jeep or by an L4 fixed wing airplane borrowed from the artillery. Small radios in each were adequate. While I tried hard to avoid getting in the way of the units, it seemed that my presence was generally known and felt on the battlefield.

Once during that period I observed a division commander who put together a fancy war room in his headquarters. A prominent feature was a telephone line to each and every unit. This general constantly talked on the telephone to some unit as he rotated his attention throughout their division. Apparently he seldom left his telephone terminal. One can only speculate what impact a modern visual display device, if available then, would have had on him.

As a corps commander in Korea with five divisions on the line, I often left my headquarters by chopper after the morning staff briefing and visited the five division headquarters in turn from left to right. The divisions knew when I was coming. The division commanders were told that they need not wait for me, and that I would talk to the chiefs of staff.

Over a cup of coffee, we discussed the latest situations. Then we discussed the problems which had been presented by them on a previous day. Then I noted what they wanted my corps headquarters to do to help them. I told them of the situation in the Eighth Army and in the I Corps as I knew it.

Returning to headquarters shortly after noon, I briefed my staff, gave them the divisions' problems, the solutions to which were expected the next morning, and spent the remainder of the day in my office or visiting corps troops. Generally, the next day I repeated this. As a result I was not only the corps commander, but the corps liaison officer, and to a large extent, the corps communicator with the lower units.

I always felt that I had a grasp of the real situation in the corps and that the division commanders were never at a loss for information or unaware of the desires of the corps and higher commanders. Command and staff inertia in I Corps was hard to find. Furthermore, there were no security leaks.

This was in a static situation, but such command techniques are not unusual in mobile warfare.

The Importance of Staying Informed

History is full of instances where the commander being at the critical point at the critical time turned the tide of battle to victory. Or conversely, the commander not being on the scene, his force was defeated.

Few such examples have been related so dramatically as in the poem "Sheridan's Ride" by Thomas Buchanan Read.

One will recall that early in the morning Sheridan was at Winchester, Virginia, 20 miles away from his command when news of a new battle arrived. He mounted his horse and took off at full speed for the field of com-bat. Read's stirring verse traces Sheridan's progress through five stanzas, giving equal credit to both him and his horse. The sixth stanza shows what happens when the commander arrives at the critical point of battle and at the critical time:

The first the general saw were the groups
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops
What was done? What to do? A glance told him both,
Then striking his spurs with a terrible oath,
He dashed down the line 'mid a storm of huzzas,
And the wave of retreat checked its course there because
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.

It is inconceivable that the same result could have been attained on an automated battlefield. Nor could Sheridan have brought order out of chaos while seated before a display panel 20 miles away.

Why Commanders Should be Forward

From my associations with various research firms, I find that they are unduly oriented to automation techniques and "the systems approach" to combat command and control. They seek a steady flow of detailed data and reports from front to rear, tied to a computer if possible. They do not understand movement or how to cope with it and still maintain command, control and communications. They seek and prescribe logical processes leading to quantified solutions. These are fine until the disorderly and confusing conditions that occur so often on the battlefield materialize. They do not realize the roles of the judgment and experience factors which must be used in handling tactical battle reports. Inevitably, these lead to a working principle, such as, "Discount by 50 percent all very favorable or unfavorable operational reports which come into your headquarters from your subordinate units--and then question the remainder."

Routine personnel, logistical and intelligence data should flow back to the staff. The chief of staff should be available to answer calls from the rear and to run the headquarters staff.

The commander should be forward as much as possible to detect early the critical situations in all fields and to render help quickly to his units when it is needed. He must give personal attention to morale and disciplinary matters as well as to things operational. He should tie in with his chief of staff as frequently as he can to give, and to receive, critical current information and directions.

The command helicopter which combines mobility and communications so well is an admirable vehicle for allowing the commander to go see for himself, and to keep in touch. If he does this, his next higher commander will never know more of his business than he knows. And his subordinate commanders will never lack for assistance and guidance. Hopefully, then, nothing that happens in his command will ever surprise him or the people above him.

Making Progress and Improving a Military Organization

It is the aim of everyone who is privileged to command a company, battalion, brigade, or division to leave it in much better shape than he found it and to be sure his superiors recognize that fact.

The "Little Pluses" Method

How is the best way to accomplish this objective? I have seen it tried in more ways than one, but the most effective way is to improve gradually every facet of the organization over a period of time by what I call a system of "little pluses." By that I mean making positive improvements starting in one or more fields which are each not extensive or radical enough to upset the functioning of the unit team or to cause an undue amount of turbulence. If this is done, over a period of a few weeks or months, the net result will be a great step forward, a substantial "tightening up"' of the organization, a constant feeling of accomplishment in the whole unit, and the violent swings of the pendulum will be avoided. These latter come from too large or radical steps and are disruptions of the smooth working of the organization.

The "little pluses" method also, if spread over all the activities of the organization, will enable a commander to make his unit excellent or better in all things and as a result will enable it to attain the accepted status of a superior unit.

The "little pluses" method may not provide the basis of unit paper of Stars and Stripes headlines or feature stories, but it will soon be recognized by your next higher commander and your unit will gain the general reputation of being a "solid" outfit. Your efficiency report will make good reading to you and to the members of promotion boards.

Projecting Your Image As A Commander

A word about "headlines": most commanders who have sought headlines to establish their "image" in the minds of their men and their superiors have sooner or later been plagued by unfavorable headlines. Produce a superior, well-rounded, and solid unit, and your image as a commander will be secure as will your military future.

Who is General Bruce C. Clarke?

The late General Bruce C. Clarke, a graduate of West Point with an engineering degree from Cornell and a law degree from LaSalle, was a decorated combat commander under Patton at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He retired from the army in the 1960s, having held ranks from private to four-star general and earned the Distinguished Service Cross, three Distinguished Service Medals, three Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.

Bruce Cooper Clarke was a United States Army general. He was a career officer who served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. He was the commander of Continental Army Command from 1958 to 1960, Commander, United States Army Europe from 1960 to 1962, and commanded the United States Army, Pacific from December 1954 to April 1956.

Clarke's military decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, three Army Distinguished Service Medals, three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, and three Bronze Star Medals. He also received decorations from foreign countries including France, Germany, Great Britain, Korea, and the Philippines.

For more, I highly encourage you to order Guidelines for the Leader and the Commander and read the entire book yourself.

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About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer turned founder and investor. He's led design work at Apple and Square. He is an early investor in Notion,, and Good Eggs. He's also the founder of Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Apr 28, 2024

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