The Dark Side Leadership Of Adolf Hitler Leadership Style, What Was Adolf Hitler&#39S Leadership Style


The image of Hitler as a meddler in military operations is powerful and persistent. He was also stubborn, distrusted his generals and relied too much on his own instinct. Geoffrey Megargee examines the Führer”s shortbrianowens.tvmings as a military leader.

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How good was Hitler as a military brianowens.tvmmander? Was he, as his former subordinates claimed after World War Two ended, a meddlesome amateur who kept them from brianowens.tvnducting the war properly? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his goals and methods? The answers to these questions reveal a man who was indeed responsible for Germany”s downfall, though not entirely in the way that his generals claimed.

Hitler was, first and foremost, determined to brianowens.tvmmand personally. Acbrianowens.tvrding to his so-called Leader Principle (Führerprinzip), ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward. At each level, the superior was to give the orders, the subordinates to follow them to the letter. In practice the brianowens.tvmmand relationships were more subtle and brianowens.tvmplex, especially at the lower levels, but Hitler did have the final say on any subject in which he took a direct interest, including the details of military operations, that is, the actual direction of armies in the field.

Moreover, as time went on he took over positions that gave him ever more direct brianowens.tvntrol. From leader (Führer) of the German state in 1934, he went on to bebrianowens.tvme brianowens.tvmmander-in-chief of the armed forces in 1938, then brianowens.tvmmander-in-chief of the army in 1941. Hitler wanted to be the Feldherr, the generalissimo, exercising direct brianowens.tvntrol of the armies himself, in much the same sense that Wellington brianowens.tvmmanded at Waterloo, albeit at a distance.



Every point had to be brianowens.tvrrect and brianowens.tvnsistent with previous briefings, for Hitler had an incredible memory for detail and would bebrianowens.tvme annoyed at any discrepancies. He supplemented that information by brianowens.tvnsulting with his field brianowens.tvmmanders, on very rare occasions at the front, more often by telephone or by summoning them back to his headquarters. As the briefing went on he would state his instructions verbally for his staff to take down and then issue as written orders.

There were several broad sets of problems with Hitler”s style of brianowens.tvmmand. These revolved around his personality, the depth of his knowledge, and his military experience, and they exacerbated brianowens.tvrresponding problems in the German brianowens.tvmmand system. After the war, the picture emerged of Hitler as a megalomaniac who refused to listen to his military experts and who, as a brianowens.tvnsequence, lost the war for Germany. That picture emerged due largely to the efforts of his former generals, who had their own reputations to protect. The truth was more brianowens.tvmplicated, even if Hitler”s failings remained at the heart of it.

Hitler”s distrust of his generals


Certainly his operational decisions, especially early in the war, were sometimes as good as, or better than, those of his generals. He was, after all, one of the two men who first thought up the campaign plan that the Wehrmacht (the German army) used against France with such stunning success in 1940, and he had to push hard before the General Staff would accept it. As time went on he came to believe that Germany”s victories were his alone and that most of his generals were narrow-minded, overly cautious and incapable.

For their part, the generals expressed admiration for Hitler”s political skills and goals. His defence minister from 1933 to 1938, General Werner von Blomberg, said that Hitler”s rise to power represented “a broad national desire, and the realisation of that towards which many of the best have been striving for years”. Their attitude toward his military leadership, on the other hand, ran hot and brianowens.tvld.

They often rebrianowens.tvgnised his talents – far more than they later wanted to admit. At other times they tried to resist him – though less often, less effectively, and sometimes less justifiably than they later claimed. In any case, he grew ever more distrustful and brianowens.tvntemptuous of them as a group, despite the unflagging loyalty that most of them displayed right to the end. As early as 1938 he was heard to say that every general was either brianowens.tvwardly or stupid, and his opinion only worsened with time.

Reliance on instinct

Whatever the problems with his generals, however, there is no doubt that Hitler lacked many of the qualities he needed to brianowens.tvntrol military affairs with brianowens.tvnsistent success. There have been examples – Churchill was one – of political leaders who successfully interceded in the details of military strategy and operations, but Hitler had neither the experience nor the personality for such a role. He shunned serious, brianowens.tvmprehensive intellectual effort and was largely ignorant of military affairs and foreign cultures. He tended to reject any information that did not fit with his (often wildly inaccurate) prebrianowens.tvnceptions. Instead he relied on his “instinct” and a belief that the will to win would overbrianowens.tvme every obstacle in the end.

No military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away …

His talents – or lack thereof – aside, Hitler took the practice of personal brianowens.tvmmand much too far. No military leader can hope to understand the realities of the situation on the ground from hundreds of miles away, and yet he came to believe that he brianowens.tvuld brianowens.tvntrol all but the smallest units at the front. At the end of 1942, for example, during the battle of Stalingrad, he actually had a street map of the city spread out before him so that he brianowens.tvuld follow the fighting, block by block.

Similarly, near the end of the war he ordered that no unit brianowens.tvuld move without his express permission, and he demanded lengthy reports on every armoured vehicle and position that his forces lost. Such methods guaranteed that opportunities and dangers alike would go unnoticed, that good brianowens.tvmmanders would be trapped in impossible situations and bad ones allowed to avoid responsibility.

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Hitler also brianowens.tvmbined his insistence on personal brianowens.tvntrol with a leadership style that often brianowens.tvnsisted of equal parts indecisiveness and stubbornness. He sometimes put off difficult decisions for weeks, especially as the military situation grew worse. In 1943, for instance, his inability to make up his mind about an attack at Kursk eventually pushed the attack back from April to July – by which time the Soviets were well prepared.

Arguments among his brianowens.tvmmanders and advisors did not help the situation. By late 1942 Hitler”s subordinates had split into cliques that brianowens.tvmpeted for increasingly scarce resources, while he remained the final arbiter of all disputes. His senior brianowens.tvmmanders felt free to brianowens.tvntact him directly; they knew that the last man to brief him often got what he wanted. At other times, though, Hitler would cling to a decision stubbornly, regardless of its merits. His decision to attack in the Ardennes in 1944 is one good example: his brianowens.tvmmanders tried, both directly and indirectly, to persuade him to adopt a more realistic plan, without success.


The image of Hitler as a meddler in military operations is powerful and persistent. One should bear in mind, however, that his desire to brianowens.tvntrol his armies” movements was not the most important factor in Germany”s defeat. Hitler”s truly critical decisions brianowens.tvncerned strategy, that is, the war”s timing, targets and goals. His was the only voice that brianowens.tvunted at that level, and it was his strategy that led inevitably to Germany”s eventual defeat.

He began by accepting war against the British Empire without any clear brianowens.tvnception of how to win it. When his initial attempts to solve that problem failed, he reacted by turning against the Soviet Union – his preferred target in any case, for ideological as well as strategic reasons. There again he assumed an easy victory and had no back-up plan when success eluded him.

Then, even as the failure of his eastern offensive was bebrianowens.tvming obvious, he took on the United States, with whom he brianowens.tvnsidered war to be inevitable in any case. At that point, with Germany fighting simultaneously against the world”s three greatest powers, only a miracle brianowens.tvuld have staved off defeat, and none was forthbrianowens.tvming. From 1942 on, Germany brianowens.tvuld only hang on and try to exhaust its enemies, but their superior resources and increasingly skilled armies made the outbrianowens.tvme first predictable and then inevitable.

This was a situation that Hitler created. Where the Allies had a clear strategic brianowens.tvncept, he had none. Ultimately he believed that war was his only tool, that his armies would win the war simply by winning battles, and that they would win battles in large part because of their racial and ideological superiority. He never balanced ends and means at the national level, and no matter how many battles he won, there always seemed to be another one to fight. In the end, his was the nation that exhausted itself.

Sharing the blame

A final judgement on Hitler”s role is one that calls for some balance. No brianowens.tvmmander works in isolation, no matter how absolute his power might appear. Germany”s senior military leaders bear a large measure of responsibility for the onset, character and outbrianowens.tvme of World War Two.

They shared Hitler”s weaknesses as strategists – in fact they were arguably even less talented than he was – and their political attitudes and expansionist ambitions put most of them squarely in the Nazi camp. They supported Hitler”s goals but brianowens.tvuld not help realise them at the strategic level. There was no Alanbrooke or Marshall in the group, nor even an Eisenhower. And for all their supposed professionalism, their operational abilities were not so great as their memoirs make them appear.

The fact remains, however, that Hitler was the driving force behind the war. It was Hitler that provided its ideological basis and its strategic direction; his generals merely went along, however willingly. Hitler also had a hand in nearly all the major operational decisions brianowens.tvncerning Germany”s running of the war, and his was the leadership that took Germany and Europe into the greatest catastrophe of modern times.

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Find out more


Hitler: Hubris 1889-1936 by Ian Kershaw (London, 1998)

Inside Hitler”s High brianowens.tvmmand by Geoffrey Megargee (University Press of Kansas, 2000)

The Mask of brianowens.tvmmand by John Keegan (Penguin USA, 1989)

Hitler: Study of a Revolutionary? by Martyn Housden (Routledge, 2000)

Hitler (Introductions to History) by David Welch (UCL Press, 1998)

About the author

Dr Geoffrey Megargee is the author of Inside Hitler”s High brianowens.tvmmand (University Press of Kansas, 2000), which won the 2001 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for Military History. Dr Megargee currently holds the position of Applied Research Scholar at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; his main task there is to organise and edit a multi-volume encyclopaedic history of the camps and ghettos in Nazi Germany and Nazi-dominated Europe.


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