General Marshall’s day, perhaps it was easier the right people in the right Jobs
to agree on a clear notion of what constituted success in the leadership of the armed forces. It may have been a more straightforward exercise to consider whether one general was driving toward that goal more or less efectively than others. That may in fact be why a man as understated as Marshall, reticent to the point of seeming almost colorless, was able to rise to the level he did. He was a classic transformational leader—an unlikely fgure of quiet resolve who can reinvigorate and redirect a com- pany or an institution. Consider Marshall’s low-key demeanor on September 1, 1939, the day that World War II began in Europe. That same day he formally ascended to chief of staf of the army—a far more im- portant position then than it is now, partly because it included the army air force. “Things look very dis- turbing in the world this morning,” he commented drily in a note that day to George Patton’s wife. Even after the war, and his obvious success, he lived on a modest government salary and turned down lavish ofers from publishers who wanted him to write his memoirs.
Certainly George Marshall was not a political ani- mal or a Washington courtier. One subordinate, Gen- eral Albert Wedemeyer, called him “coolly imper-
3 harvard business review october 2012
In the spring
of 1939, even before becoming chief of staf, George C. Marshall had devised a plan to remove scores of ofcers he considered deadwood.
sonal.” He was distant even with his commander in chief, President Franklin Roosevelt. He made a point of not laughing at the president’s jokes and was clear that he preferred not to be addressed by his first name. He didn’t visit Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York, until the day of FDR’s funeral.
When Marshall is remembered nowadays, it is more often for his role in establishing the Marshall Plan, which revived the economies of post–World War II Europe, than for his role in...