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Good Leadership

Monash, an Australian Leader

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General Sir John Monash (1865-1931)

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Life Experiences (leadership development)

 

General Sir John Monash was born in Melbourne, Victoria on June 27th 1865, the son of European Immigrants he attended Scots College and then Melbourne University to complete an Engineering degree in 1891 and went on to also completing both an Arts Degree and a Law degree in 1895. Importantly (in the context of his life), Monash joined the Army reserves what were then called the Citizens Military forces, rising to the rank of colonel by the time World War 1 commenced. Initially commanding a Brigade at Gallipoli, he went on to command the 3rd Division AIF in England, where it trained for the majority of 1916. Monash then lead the 3rd Division on the eastern front in 1927 with great distinction. At the beginning of 1918 Monash was presented with a Knighthood (a Knight, commander of the Bath no less) and on 1st June, the command of the Australian Corps, which saw him in command of the five Australian Divisions totalling 160,000 men. Monash was the first Australian to be given this critical leadership position.

Durbrin talks of leadership development through education and experience (Pg. 456). In studying Monash and reading of his development as a soldier, that statement certainly takes on true meaning. Already a respected engineer and a pillar of Melbourne society when war broke out, Monash set to full time soldiering with the same strong work ethic and attention to detail that had been at the fore in his life so far. Having studied, but never been to war, Monash, like all generals at the commencement of World War 1, had never experienced anything remotely like what they and their troops were going to encounter in the trenches of the western front. Monash was a quick learner.

 

Strategic leadership

In discussing strategic leadership, Dubrin talks about the leader displaying high levels of Cognitive activity. Many of his peers regarded Monash, as the most able General of any nation to have led men on World War 1. The British Field Marshal, Montgomery of El Alamein fame wrote of Monash in his 1968 book “History of Warfare”: “I would name Sir John Monash as the best General on the Western Front in Europe; he possessed real creative originality, and the war might well have been over sooner, and certainly with fewer casualties had Haig been relieved of his command and Monash appointed to command the British Armies in his place.” (Sarle pg. 379)

High praise indeed from Montgomery.

In June 1918 Monash was told to take the village of Hamel, he planned to do so with 10 Battalions of men (approximately 10,000 men) and tanks. In what would be one of the most successful attacks of the war, Monash carefully planned every stage of the attack. All the while ensuring that every level of the enterprise was carefully explained to all senior and middle level officers in two major conferences with 118 agenda points in the first and, a massive 4 &1/2 hours & 133 points in the second. From these conferences, Monash gathered multiple inputs to formulate Strategy for final dissemination to the lower ranks. According to Carlyon (Pg.638) Monash alone among the Western front commanders actively sought dissenting opinions in these conferences to arrive at the best plan rather than push “his” plan onto his subordinates.

Monash had planned that the attack would be completed in 90 minutes. As it turned out, the objectives were successfully obtained in 93 minutes with relatively few casualties.

In World War 1, the commanders too often lost sight of the human element of the war they were fighting, quite unconcernedly sending thousands off to the slaughter in hope that some miracle might occur and bravery and “some dash” might overcome machine guns and heavy artillery. Monash, in the context of a world war 1 fighting general never lost sight of his first duty, to try, to overcome the enemy, having said this, he was, according to the historian Bean, "naturally humane”. A good example of this is the disbandment affair in 1918. To explain, in 1918, the Australian battalions were due to low recruitment rates in Australia, all at a low strength, so it was proposed to disband some and use these men to reinforce those battalions who remained. When word of this spread to the Australian diggers there was a mutiny, but, the men were not refusing to fight, they just wanted to fight with their battalions which their friends had fought for and with for the last 4 years. Monash was not going t be denied, but he dealt with this crisis in a very smart way. He held a conference with the ringleaders, at it he said ”I have done thing unprecedented in military annals in holding an informal conference such as this, but I realise that the AIF is different from any other army in the world” (Carlyon pg. 701). Monash, got his way, the battalions disbanded.

One of Australia’s greatest sons, Monash was a leader of men.

References

 

Serle, G. (1982). John Monash, A Biography. Australia: Wilke & Co. Ltd.

 

Dubrin, A. J., Daglish, C. & Miller, P. (2006). Leadership 2nd  Asia-Pacific edition. Singapore: John Wiley & sons.

 

Carlyon, L. (2006). The Great War. Australia: Pan MacMillan.