A 120-Year Difference

A historian has said this about Gen. George A. Custer: “Generals who led men were rare; generals who won battles were rarer. It is no wonder that he was idolized from President Lincoln down. All the world loves a winner.” On June 26, 1874, Custer’s 261 soldiers were killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Another historian asks, “Was Custer a hero or a fool?” On February 27, 1991, the allied coalition forces of Operation Desert Storm led by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf overcame the armies of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in a victory that quickly became known to the world as “The 100-Hour War.” Shortly before the war, Schwarzkopf is quoted as saying, “I told my family that during the first month of any military campaign, the guy in charge is a hero, and it’s downhill after that.” We don’t normally think of military leaders as managers, but they are responsible for the actions of numerous subordinates in critical times. They must be effective communicators to carry out this mission. Generals Custer and Schwarzkopf help demonstrate the differences in managerial communication that have occurred during the past 120 years. General Custer led his 261 men on horseback in southeastern Montana. Compare this to General Schwarzkopf as you think about him stepping quickly toward the podium in a fourth-floor ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Riyadh to address 200 reporters from around the world. No doubt these two managers had different communication support systems, but they also had different responsibilities. General Custer was managing an operation of 261 horse soldiers. Schwarzkopf was coordinating a half-million-strong international military force including the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army as well as the first Tank Division of the United Kingdom and corps from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and France. What a difference! But in some ways their training was quite similar. Both were educated at West Point, went through army war colleges at Fort Leavenworth, were stationed at Fort Riley, and had frontline battle experience. Both had experienced defeat and victory.

1. Compare the management communication systems of these two managers. How are the basics similar? What was the role of technology?

 2. Which of the two generals had the easier job? Consider this question carefully because Custer had a much smaller group of men, but Schwarzkopf had sophisticated technology and organizational structure.

 3. Which of the two managers required more advanced training in management communication? Why? 4. How would you compare these two generals to business managers during the same era?

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