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General MacArthur and the need for speed

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

The pace of change seems to grow more urgent every year.File:Douglas MacArthur lands Leyte1.jpg

Some see it as an attribute of leadership in the 21st century—right up there with judgment and courage.

Consider, then, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who spread the speed creed 70 years before it was cool.

“Only through surprise action can collision with the enemy’s prepared positions be avoided,” he wrote. “The constant trend in the modern world is toward greater and greater speed.”

To underscore the importance of speed, MacArthur used a metaphor: “A law of physics that applies equally to warfare is that while striking force increases directly with the mass applied, it increases according to the square of the speed of the application.”

MacArthur also advocated using technology to increase speed. Even though the Depression severely tightened funding, he promoted mobility through the mechanization of artillery, infantry, tanks and supplies. “Nothing is more important to the future efficiency of the Army than to multiply its rate of movement,” he said.

The general could not stomach dilly-dallying by his commanders. When Gen. Robert Eichelberger didn’t seem to be moving fast enough, MacArthur told him: “Time is fleeting and our danger increasing … Hasten your preparations and when you are ready —strike, for as I have said, time is working desperately against us.”

And for anyone who didn’t get it, MacArthur offered this:

“The history of failure in war can almost be summed up in two words: Too Late. Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy; too late in realizing the mortal danger; too late in preparedness; too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance; too late in standing with one’s friends.”

That says it all.

— Adapted from No Substitute for Victory: Lessons in Strategy and Leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, Theodore Kinni and Donna Kinni, Prentice Hall. National Archives Photo: Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, October 1944.

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