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Lead People, Manage Processes, and What Charles Martel Can Teach the Transitioning Veteran

“Every ruler is harsh whose rule is new.”

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound ca. 478 BC

“If you command wisely, you’ll be obeyed cheerfully.”

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia 1732

The good manager only needs to know and manage the essential processes, but a good leader will manage processes and inspire his people. The great leader will do both seamlessly.

When we envision great leaders we think of the political or military talents in history. Of Caesar, Washington, Napoleon, Lee and Grant, only two finished on top. Of Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Churchill, one was assassinated before victory, one dies before victory, and poor Winston, the moral guide of Western Civilization through World War II, is voted out of office by a fickle public a few months after Germany surrendered.

All were great leaders. All have stood the test of time in history.

When we envision good managers, we think of ourselves.

Leaders manage people. Managers lead processes.

Leaders who try to get away with only inspirational platitudes or by dint of personality only will disappoint more often than impress.

No matter what the mission, the endeavor, or the goal, it’s all about people. Connect, train, exploit, intimidate, cheer, care, learn all about your people.

JW Marriott, the son of the founder of Marriott hotels, was an ensign in the US Navy during WWII. The story goes that he was a detailed taskmaster, who insisted the cooks in his charge on the ship he was assigned to follow navy regulations in all respects. The food was consistently bland. Only after he asked the cooks, experienced with preparing both big meals and young officers, what they thought should be done to improve the food, and hence morale, did the chow get better. Markedly.

The lesson? Four simple words: “What do you think?” And by asking his people that simple question, Mr. Marriott expanded a hospitality empire known for the highest quality without compromising good relations with his employees.

A good leader must still be an expert of processes.

A good manager can be an automaton, a process wonk, and have marginal people skills. You learn business from the manager, but not how the business works. It works because people get the job done.

One key to determine the effectiveness of your leadership is whether your subordinates act appropriately in your absence, without your direct supervision. This key is why military leadership, and their product of societies, is more horizontal than normally ascribed.

Few people have ever heard of Charles Martel, and fewer still can describe his foundational role in Western civilization. Martel (688-741) is considered to be the founding figure of the European Middle Ages. Martel re-established the ranks as the rulers of Gaul, subjugated Bavaria, Alemannia and Frisia, vanquished the pagan Saxons, and most importantly halted the Islamic advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours. Martel was offered a Roman consulship. He refused.

It was after the Battle of Tours that Martel earned the name “Martel,” which means “Hammer.” He sought nothing for himself. Charles Martel saved Western civilization as we know it, his organizational skills kept his Frankish armies strong, and he solidified his holdings in Western Europe through loyal counts and dukes. His grandson we know as Charlemagne, the first Emperor since the fall of Rome.

Why is Charles Martel so significant? He had the capacity and ability to rule the world. He ensured Western civilization as we know it. Would that all of us take a position of authority with Martel’s single-mindedness and selflessness, without claim to personal reward or glory. He knew his armies saved the world.

A hundred years from now your management of processes may mean little, and the small gesture of concern to a subordinate may appear to mean less, but keep in mind that it does not hurt to go out of your way to say please and thank you, or just to smile.

Your subordinates make you successful. It ain’t about you.

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