If ever a man deserved to hang it is Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering: his pudgy fingerprints are all over the letter that led to the horrifying Wannsee Conference.
As if that were not enough, many on his own side would also cheerfully have strangled him, albeit for very different reasons: his incompetent handling of the Luftwaffe, the mighty German Air Force, in World War Two was a major contributory factor in Germany’s defeat.
Yet the same Hermann Goering also deserves credit, if that is the word, for creating the Luftwaffe in the first place, and for building it from nothing into the most feared fighting service in the world in just six years.
It is an astonishing feat, but even more astonishing is that Goering accomplished it. Physically brave, personally charming, and politically cunning, he was not without natural gifts, but management skills were not among them.
This lazy incompetent achieved great success on his own terms by accepting that he was a lazy incompetent, and by hiring active and able subordinates to cover his weaknesses. More importantly, having hired them, he let them get on with their jobs with the minimum of interference – unlike his master, the paranoid meddler Adolf Hitler.
One of the most talented of Goering’s deputies, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, made a perceptive comment in his memoirs about his chief’s leadership style:
“Even if he was a past master at getting his subordinates to do his work, occasionally his very frequent hours of leisure were devoted to casual reflection which bore many fruitful suggestions.”
Many executives today would say the same of their own boss. While Goering should never be a role model for anyone, it is foolish to try to write him off as a fool. He was intelligent enough to know his limitations and to build an organisation around him that took them into account. It cannot be denied that his management system has been much imitated, and it can be very effective in turning weaknesses into strengths.
However, Kesselring made another perceptive comment, this one about Goering’s greatest opponent, the man who beat him, which every entrepreneur should memorise as a far more reliable formula for success...
“Every undertaking is a risk, and needs, besides planning, relentless execution and a certain optimism. Churchill fulfilled these conditions in the highest degree.”