Original insights in international business and marketing

What Kind of General Are You?


Years ago I remember being told a story about how German general Erich Von Manstein developed a unique system for categorizing and ranking his officers. He categorized them according to two simple dimensions: they were either Smart or Dull and they were either Active or Lazy. This creates the following profiles:

  • Smart and lazy
  • Smart and active
  • Dull and lazy
  • Dull and active

Manstein would rank his officers according to these profiles but he also had a very interesting way of assessing the merits of each of these 4 relative to each other. Before I share with you how he ranked them, take a few seconds to rank them yourself from worst to best.

Most people usually rank them the following way:

1. Smart and active
2. Smart and lazy
3. Dull and active
4. Dull and lazy

The thinking is that smart is always better than dull and active is always better than lazy. Seems reasonable, right?

Von Manstein, however, saw things differently.

  • In fourth (lowest) position are the Dull and Active officers. The thinking goes that they are walking disasters, busy meddling with – and messing up – everything they touch. Get rid of these as fast as possible. They are trouble.
  • In third position (next to worst) are the Smart and Active officers. Nothing wrong here other than they have a tendency to be micro-managers and expend too much energy flitting from one activity to another.
  • In second position (runner up) are the Dull and Lazy officers. Clearly they are not superstars but because they have the good fortune of being lazy, they are less likely to screw as many things up as their active brethren.  Yes, they may not be bright, but at least they are wise to leaving well-enough alone.
  • The top (best) position goes to the Smart and Lazy officers. Their key attributes, besides smarts, is that they will only do the things they HAVE TO DO. Less energy gets wasted as they only focus their attention on the essential things.

Here are Von Manstein’s own words:

There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm…Second, there are the hard- working, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard- working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.” – General Erich Von Manstein (1887-1973) on the German Officer Corps

So what does this tell us and what lessons can we draw from this?  Well clearly, this is a gross over-simplification but like many popular parables or stories of this kind, there is often a nugget of truth. Besides being an entertaining story to pull out during your next business dinner, I think it also begs some interesting questions:

  • Can you really break down people into basic profiles?
  • Do you agree with Von Manstein’s ranking system and views?
  • What kind of officer would you consider yourself as?

Obviously, by virtue or ready this blog, you have demonstrated that you are a clever individual. So the key question is whether you are lazy (doing only the essential, when needed) or perhaps a bit too active (wasting energy and getting people around you stressed out).

Something to think about it.

photo credit: drakegoodman via photopin cc

One comment on “What Kind of General Are You?

  1. Arnaud DESCOINS
    December 10, 2013

    Well, I feel smarter and lazier now !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 10, 2013 by in Management and tagged , , , , .

Click to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 188 other subscribers

Time Machine

December 2013

View Andrew Hyncik’s profile on LinkedIn

Latest Tweets

Who is behind Parifornia?

Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

Personal Links

View Full Profile →

%d bloggers like this: