I am currently in Washington, DC, attending the annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army (A-USA) and presenting our newly launched book.*

I was privileged to meet Maj. Gen. (ret.) David T. Zabecki, a military historian who had a distinguished career in Artillery and was part of an American contingent visiting Israel in 2001-3, working on the Road Map. His convoy was targeted by Hamas, but they got the wrong convoy, blowing up a convoy with diplomats instead.
 
Zabecki now lives in Freiburg, Germany, close to the archives of the German military. He has edited a book, Chiefs of Staff: The Principal Officers Behind History’s Great Commanders (Praeger Security, vol. 1 and 2, 2008).

Zabecki’s book includes brief accounts of the chiefs of staff who ran operations for the great military commanders, like Napoleon and Patton. These brilliant managers have names few have heard of (Gneisenau, Moltke, Berthier, Kuhl). They implemented the bold, innovative plans devised by such leaders as Patton.  And they are the reasons these leaders were successful. Their excellence was in planning and in executing – often, areas where the Commanding General was not strong. 

I asked Zabecki what the secret of these successful teams – leader, manager – was. He told me that the key to the best teams of Commanding General and his Chief of Staff was complementarity – each had skills that complemented, rather than duplicated, the other. 

I believe that this applies equally to the roles of CEO and COO. Strong CEO leaders need excellent COO’s (Chief Operation Officers), who complement them, who are great at planning and at execution, and who implement the ideas, innovations and initiatives of the CEO, in the same way that General Patton needed Maj. Gen. Hugh Gaffey, his chief of staff.

As CEO, avoid the temptation to pick a COO who is like you. This never works; it failed in the military, and fails in business. Pick a COO who is different from you, who fills in your blank spaces. And be cautious in promoting your COO as your successor. According to Zabecki, many great Chiefs of Staff who served under daring Generals never became great military leaders themselves. Apparently, skill in operational excellence is not matched by equal boldness and daring in creativity and innovation.  

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*Brig. Gen. (ret.) Robert L. Dilworth and Shlomo Maital. Fogs of War and Peace: A Midstream Analysis of World War Three. Praeger Security: 2008.

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