After reading best sellers Stalingrad and The Second World War, I realised that war is a competitive workplace.
These books also add further material to the growing international evidence that gender equity contributes significant business value, and can also help modify and improve business results when the presiding general-in-command (or ‘CEO’) is mad.
Stalingrad was one of the toughest battlegrounds imaginable. Like most workplaces, differences in each opponent’s leadership, teamwork and gender equity attitudes determined the final result.
At the head of each army you had CEOs Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin – two men now universally recognised for their brutal insanity.
However, one in five working-age adults suffer a mental health illness each year, and one in two adults experience this during a working lifetime, with anxiety and depression most common. Many workers – especially highly pressured CEOs – continue their daily jobs under these afflictions and often with significant negative impacts on themselves and others.
2013 AHRI National Convention keynote speaker and neuroleadership researcher Ruby Wax estimates 25 per cent of top global CEOs suffer some form of mental illness. At this job level, work pressures exacerbate risks of mental stress and illness.
That was certainly the case with Hitler and Stalin. As well as both men suffering from anxiety, depression and regular psychotic outbursts, Hitler was quite delusional, and Stalin was paranoid. Ultimately, Hitler’s delusion and misogyny was costly to his Stalingrad campaign. He believed all his military initiatives would emulate the successful invasions of Poland, Czechoslovakia and France.
When reports came to Hitler about lack of success, he shut that advice out and lived in a kind of fantasy world.
CEO Stalin, on the other hand, was a psychotic micro-manager and always knew his army’s strengths, positions and weaknesses. He always knew what was going on, even when his top brass was too scared to tell him for fear of losing position or life itself, because Stalin would simply ring up commanders on the frontline.
But Stalin was also enlightened on the value of actively utilising women in the campaign, whereas Hitler was not. Russian women dominated personnel ranks at its war craft factories. Hitler, who was very upset as to why productivity in his own tank factories was only about two-thirds of his Russian counterparts, ultimately failed to appreciate Russia’s female munitions workers who achieved superior process and output efficiency, as well as quality control.
Stalin also employed women for key frontline roles. Amongst other tasks, diminutive, but extremely athletic, female medical orderlies would go out to the battlefront each day and drag back 20–30 wounded soldiers for medical attention.
It must have been horrible to serve in wartime armies headed by two heinous, mad men. However, Stalin had more realistic relationships with his frontline commanders, and also saw both men and women playing an active role in the war.
I hope our civilisation never goes through a situation like that again. Dealing with a psychotic leader is one of the worst HR challenges. A knowledge of history and psychology can sometimes help with that inevitability in your career, as can engaging more women in the workplace to help with the job, and also with managing the occasional madman on top.