Hitler had his faults, of course, as he himself would be the first to admit. Many of his “Nazi theories” have now been debunked. With the benefit of hindsight his invasion of Russia was ill-conceived, and his scheme to exterminate the “lesser races” has been widely discredited.
Hitler was also a lousy manager. During the war years, in particular, he tended to sleep all morning, go for a long walk after lunch, then settle down to watch a film before a dinner which would last all night – not because the dinner itself was particularly lavish but because this was when he would talk about his plans for the world, for two or three hours at a time. If you wanted to get a decision out of Hitler, your best bet was to get him either straight after lunch or after the afternoon walk. Either that or sell your idea to Martin Bormann, who got himself into the position of being Hitler’s gatekeeper in this period; even he couldn’t always get the Fuehrer’s attention, but with any luck he’d send out the memo anyway.
Hitler’s working practices were more efficient earlier in his career, but even then he knew nothing about delegation. He was the kind of boss who keeps everyone hanging around until he’s ready to start a meeting, then talks at great length about whatever comes to mind instead of sticking to the agenda. He inspired – if that was the kind of thing you were inspired by – and, er, that was it. Except that, in the classic style of hands-off managers, he was also a micro-manager when the fancy took him; as the German armies faced defeat on the Eastern and Western fronts, the Fuehrer would make time to read the complaints and denunciations ordinary Germans had written to him and ensure that such-and-such a slacker or hoarder received the appropriate punishment.
Hitler’s style of management was dreadfully inefficient, but it has a certain definite appeal – at least, for the manager in question. What could be better, after all, than to sweep armies across the map and condemn thousands of enemies to death in the afternoon, then in the afternoon reach down to pluck out a single lurking malefactor and consign him to his personal doom – and finish the day by outlining those still greater things that you would achieve, when the downfall of all your enemies had finally given you a free hand? What a combination: vision, strategy and a grasp of specifics, all managed from the lofty vantage-point of the true leader, with a true leader’s wisdom and authority. What a piece of work such a manager would be – how infinite in faculty, in apprehension how like a god!
I certainly understand that the capillaries of a society run from bottom to top, bearing all the bad news, intractable problems, mood swings and crises; that it is all ceaselessly pumped upwards in the direction of the Prime Minister; and that the view afforded in Downing Street must sometimes be truly extraordinary, a seething, organic, Hogarthian panorama of delinquency and unreason.A Prime Minister must try to reach beyond the day-to-day business of government, frantic though it is, and make sense of what he sees below, seek the connecting threads, order up the policies and implement them so that improvement becomes possible. … Because he is by his own account well-intentioned, [Blair] believes that nothing should get in the way of this modernising purpose, the exercise of his benevolent reason on the turbulent society below. Like Mrs Thatcher, he has become almost mystically responsible for the state of the nation.
There is a great deal of evidence that almost all organizational structures tend to produce false images in the decision-maker, and that the larger and more authoritarian the organization, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.