Do you have a “Beppo” Schmid in your organisation?

Do you have “Beppo” Schmid in your organisation?

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”

Napoleon Bonaparte

So, who was Joseph “Beppo” Schmid?

In World War II, Schmid was German Luftwaffe Field Marshall Herman Goering’s Intelligence chief and personal friend.  The provision of useful intelligence, particularly during the Battle of Britain in 1940 was of less importance to Schmid than his career. He was shrewd, calculating and ambitious. He removed any staff that could be considered a threat to his ambitions and replaced them with those who would not challenge him. Schmid was intent on ingratiating himself with Goering by only telling him what he wanted to hear.

One of the consequences was poor intelligence. This was a major contributing factor to the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, leading to the deaths of thousands of German airmen and the virtual destruction of the Luftwaffe.  In early 1940 Schmid’s team produced the ‘Study Blue’ report. It was based on a book about British industry ordered directly from a London bookshop, as well as British newspaper cuttings, and was supplemented by reconnaissance photographs. The study was used for planning the Luftwaffe’s campaign against Britain. It summary, the report underestimated the capabilities of the RAF in aircraft, pilots, aircraft production and technology, and overestimated the technical capabilities of the German aircraft, probably tempered by arrogance following the success of Blitzkrieg in the invasion of France.  

Throughout the Battle of Britain, Schmid’s intelligence was suspect. In August 1940 another report predicted that Britain would run out of fighter aircraft and that Germany was shooting them down at three times the actual attrition rate. Furthermore, they underestimated the number of RAF fighters by a factor of three. With unsustainable aircraft losses, the German objective to either compel Britain to negotiate a peace settlement or be invaded, failed. By early September 1940 Hitler’s Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, was postponed.

As managers, what lessons as managers can we learn from “Beppo” Schmid?

 Here are 3 management lessons…

1. Beware of egos and unbridled ambition

Sadly, throughout my career I witnessed too many examples of egos and blinding ambition endangering a business and, in the process, adversely affected employees’ lives. One of my former business partners refused to acknowledge that a customer he had secured was costing our business thousands of dollars a week because he didn’t want to admit that he had under quoted and didn’t want to face the customer. His ego would not allow him to admit the mistake.    

2. There is no substitute from doing your homework

The results of bombing were consistently exaggerated, probably through inaccurate claims and over-enthusiastic reports. Following the unexpectedly quick fall of France there developed an atmosphere of perceived victory. The Luftwaffe leadership and in particular Goering, became increasingly disconnected from reality. Doing his homework properly, rather than telling Goering what he needed to hear, Schmid could have prevented the massive loss of lives and material which weakened the Luftwaffe. They never fully recovered before Germany’s defeat in 1945.

3. Incompetent leadership severely impacts an organisation

A fish rots from the head first. Goering was an incompetent leader who surrounded himself with people who were afraid to say “no” – afraid to give him bad news and probably feared for their lives. Leadership whether poor or good has a massive impact on an organisation’s success and the lives of its employees. Leadership comes with responsibility and more importantly, accountability. Compare this with the leadership displayed by the RAF.    

What do you think are the lessons are?

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