The Art of Leadership

By Field Marshal The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

front cover - The Art of Leadership

Any book written by Britain's most famous military leader of the 20th Century is bound to be worth reading. And so it is with "The Art of Leadership" by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, hero of Alamein and Normandy, architect of Market Garden and former Commander of the Imperial General Staff.

Originally published in 1961 as "The Path to Leadership", it has been updated with a chapter discussing the leadership styles and abilities of Eisenhower and Churchill, two men that Montgomery knew well. Considered by the author himself to be too contentious at the time, it was omitted from the original edition but has been added here as an appendix.

The book is a mixture of Montgomery's views on what makes a good leader and his appraisal of various leaders, historical and contemporary, across several disciplines including industry, politics and the military. It is in his discussions of the contemporary leaders that the real value of this book may be found. Montgomery had met these men and knew several of them extremely well. The chapters dealing with them are sprinkled with anecdotes recounting the times he spent with his subjects and the conversations they shared. This gives his treatment of them a level of insight and authenticity that few other writers could match.

On the other hand, the chapters concerning the more theoretical aspects of leadership and Montgomery's vision for leading the country's youth provide less value. Given that the book was written nearly 50 years ago, it is to be expected that many of the opinions expressed in it may appear slightly out of date when considered now. However, I cannot help but wonder whether they may have been regarded as old fashioned even at the time of the original publication. Montgomery set out his ideas for providing clear leadership for Britain's young people of the 60s but today it reads more like an historical curiosity than a valid or workable framework.

Montgomery wrote in a very informal, almost conversational, style. It served him well in his memoirs and serves him just as well in this book. In fact, much of the time, "The Art of Leadership" reads like an extension of his memoirs, especially the chapters in which he discusses his encounters with world leaders of the 40s and 50s. As you would expect, given Montgomery's reputation, his obvious affection for several of his subjects did not prevent him from highlighting any leadership failings he considered them to have. Montgomery was obviously an intelligent and perceptive man, but he also wrote with clarity and an endearing wit that makes this book extremely easy to read.

This really highlights the main benefit of this book: that it was written by Montgomery. As a reference for those wishing to learn more about the art of leadership, it may disappoint. As further insight into the mind of one of the most successful and respected generals of the 20th Century, it is both fascinating and entertaining.

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