DEVELOPMENT & MANAGEMENT CENTER (LDMC)
BRIG GEN WILLIAM “BILLY” MITCHELL
KAPT MOHD ISYRAQY BIN MUSTAFA TUDM (GROUP LEADER)
KAPT RAHIMAH BT TAIB TUDM
KAPT MUHAMMAD AZFAR BIN MUHAMMAD DAN TUDM
FLTLT CHRISTOPHER FORD
Brigadier General William “Billy”
Mitchell, United States Army Air Service
BRIG GEN WILLIAM “BILLY” MITCHELL
NO SUBJECT PAGE
1. TABLE OF CONTENTS 2
2. INTRODUCTION 3
3. AIM 4
4. SCOPE 4
Learnt in relation to the Principles chosen 8
5. CONCLUSION 10
6. RECOMMENDATIONS 10
7. BIBLIOGRAPHY 14
BRIGADIER GENERAL WILLIAM “BILLY” MITCHELL
(MAL) 100 Malaysian Armed Forces Staff Manual, Chapter 4.
for Ex. Panglima for Squadron Officer Course serial 83/2015 dated 28 Aug 15.
is ongoing discussion regarding leadership; whether leaders are born or made.
Most research indicates that while there are some genetic traits that good
leaders often have, developing leadership skills is not only possible, but is
essential, even for those with natural leadership tendencies (Hackett, 2013).
By studying good leaders and dissecting the traits that they displayed, a
better appreciation of both positive and negative traits can be gained,
assisting in improving and developing our own leadership skills. This paper
will assess the leadership qualities displayed by Brig Gen William “Billy”
Mitchell in accordance with the leadership principles identified by John Maxwell
(1999), to identify the traits that made Mitchell who he was and to provide
recommendations to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to better improve the
leadership within the organisation.
aim of this paper is to study the positive and negative traits of Brig Gen William
Mitchell to exploit his leadership principles as lessons learnt and applied to modern
day warfare in the RMAF.
scope of this paper is as follows:
Learnt in relation to the Principles Chosen.
‘Billy’ Mitchell was born 29 December 1879 in Nice, France (O’Neil, 2007). He
was a notably intelligent student and outstanding athlete in his younger years,
but was too undisciplined to excel at school. This restless character trait
would go on to shape Mitchell’s enduring legacy towards the development of air
power in the US. In 1896, Mitchell
transferred to Columbia College in Washington, before enlisting in 1898, soon
after the outbreak of war in Spain. During this period Mitchell was not involved
in any active operations; however, he was actively involved in post-war
developments. Mitchell performed very well at the Army School of the Line in
1908 and Staff College in 1909. As a result of his performance, Mitchell was
called to serve in the War Department General Staff from 1913-1916.
the age of 38, Mitchell attempted to become a pilot in the US Army; however, he
was considered too old to fly. As a result, Mitchell sought out private
instruction at a civilian flying school in order to become a pilot (Hickman,
n.d.). He quickly came to recognise the rising importance of air power and
began to advocate it within the armed forces (Encyclopedia of World Biography,
2010). When the US entered World War I in 1917, Mitchell was sent to France as
an observer and to study aircraft production. It was in this period of his life
that Mitchell learnt how to develop aerial combat strategies and plan
large-scale air operations (Hickman, n.d.). It was also during this time that
Mitchell established himself as a strong and tireless leader, resulting in his
promotion as commander of the American Expeditionary Force. While he proved to
be a highly effective commander, his aggressive approach and willingness to
ignore the chain of command made him many enemies amongst his peers and
his return from the war, Mitchell continued to advocate air power, relentlessly
pursuing the establishment of an independent air force. Not only did his
actions result in clashes with many of his army peers, but he also antagonised
the navy through his assertions that the surface fleet was obsolete in light of
the rise of air power (Hickman, n.d.). Over the following years through to
1924, Mitchell continued to make enemies within the ranks as he continued to
criticise the Army and Navy leadership. While his superiors allowed him to
continue due to his great knowledge and usefulness to the armed forces, their
patience was stretched to breaking point when Mitchell accused the senior
leadership of ‘almost treasonable administration of the national defense’ in
1924 (Borch, 2012). Mitchell was subsequently court-martialled and resigned out
of principle. Retiring in 1926, Mitchell continued to advocate for air power
and the establishment of an independent air force until his death in 1936.
(1999), identifies 21 qualities of a leader. Throughout his career Mitchell
displayed many of these qualities, including Character, Commitment, Competence,
Courage, Focus, Initiative, Passion, Self-Discipline and Vision. While these
traits are all relevant, the most important were his Courage, Passion and
Vision. Mitchell was able to see things that none of his contemporaries could,
and his courage ensured that his passion for air power was not quietened by
those that did not have his same vision. While Mitchell had many positive
traits, he also had several negative leadership traits that hindered his
ability to achieve the outcomes he desired. Both of these aspects will be
discussed in the following paragraphs.
Vision. Mitchell’s most positive leadership trait was
his vision. Vision is everything for a leader. It is indispensable. Vision is
what guides a leader and it is also what draws others to follow that leader
(Maxwell, 1999). The most important part of vision is that it comes from
within. Before anyone else recognised the
importance of air power, Mitchell saw a complete re-writing of the battle
field. He had an amazing understanding of the future of air power and doggedly
sought to see that vision be realised within the US Armed Forces. He recognised the ability
of air power to be used in the naval realm, he saw future conflict with Japan
and he highlighted critical failures at Pearl Harbour (Mastromichalis, 1986,
p.9). All of these issues were unconsidered at the time and were discarded by
Passion. Mitchell’s vision alone would not have been
enough to make him the great leader he was. The second positive trait that
helped Mitchell become a great leader was his passion for air power. Mitchell’s
driving desire in life was to advocate the expanding use of air power and this
unwavering commitment helped him make the impossible, possible. As mentioned by
the famous Bill Cosby once, ‘Anyone can dabble, but once you’ve made that commitment,
your blood has that particular thing in it, and it’s very hard for people to
stop you’ (Cosby, n.d., as cited in Maxwell, 1999).
Courage. The final trait that made Mitchell a truly
great leader was his courage. As noted by Maxwell (1999), courage is about
making things right, not smoothing things over. Martin Luther King declared
that ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of
comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and
controversy’ (King, n.d., as cited in Maxwell, 1999). This is one area where
Mitchell clearly stood apart from the rest. Mitchell’s knowledge and
understanding of the importance of air power was not enough; he required the
courage to push his ideas forward, even at the cost of his own career. As
mentioned earlier, Mitchell was eventually court-martialed for his actions, but
because of his courage, air power was furthered and his actions proved to be
justified as the truth of his predictions played out in the development of air
power and World War II. He was also well-admired by his subordinates who
appreciated his honest nature and the knowledge that he would always stand up for
what was right, and not what suited his personal circumstances.
Building. While Mitchell
had some great leadership traits, there was one particular negative that
ultimately cost him his career. Mitchell was completely unwilling to engage
with his peers and superiors in his pursuit of air power. If people did not
agree with him or were unwilling to follow his lead, Mitchell openly and
aggressively attacked their points of view and attempted to undermine their
authority. Mitchell believed that he was doing this for the right reasons, but
it made him many enemies and made it difficult for even his allies to
publically support him. Because of his farsighted vision, Mitchell needed to
have people onside to assist him with the introduction of his ideas; however,
he continually chastised and antagonized anyone that would not fully agree with
him (Mastromichalis, 1986, p.9). Principles such as listening and relationships
are important leadership traits and Mitchell’s single-sighted personality
failed to recognize these deficiencies, which could have resulted in a better
outcome for the air force sooner (Maxwell, 1999).
LESSONS LEARNT IN RELATION TO THE PRINCIPLES CHOSEN
analysis of the leadership traits displayed by Mitchell provide many different
lessons that can be applied to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF). The
leadership principles discussed above will now be dissected to analyse what
lessons can be learnt by Mitchell.
is an essential element for a forward thinking organisation. Mitchell was able
to see things most people could not and had a plan to drive the Air Force to
become dominant air power. Without vision, an organisation will stagnate and
will not have the ability to move forward as the world around it changes. A
recent example where the lack of vision damaged an organisation was Kodak.
Kodak failed to identify the major importance the development of digital
technology in film would have in the industry. This resulted in Kodak
continuing to focus on film while the rest of the world moved with the new
technology and when Kodak realised it had to follow, it was too late (Mui,
2012). This shows that having vision is essential for the long-term development
of any organisation, and is even more important when the security of a nation
is at stake.
is what drives an individual to excel in their chosen field. Collectively, when
many individuals in an organisation are passionate about their roles, the
organisation as a whole will be driven to succeed. Mitchell had a great passion
for air power and this resulted in a lot of work being committed to developing
a better system. If other personnel within the organisation had the same
passion for air power as Mitchell did, many of the uses for air power and
critical vulnerabilities that were discovered may have been prepared for and
integrated into the military system earlier. In order to move forward and face
the challenges in the new era of globalisation in the Air Force, all personnel need
passion towards their roles. This will lead to a cohesive force all pushing
towards the same outcomes.
which also known as bravery, is the choice and willingness to confront danger,
uncertainty or intimidation from the enemy. It can also be defined as the
ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame or discouragement.
The lesson that can be learnt from Mitchell regarding courage is that
regardless of any other principles held by an individual, without courage, the
other principles will not see the light of day. Mitchell had both vision and
passion towards air power, but without the courage to speak up and express his
opinions, even at the risk of his own career, these principles would have meant
with great vision, passion and courage, there is no guarantee of success.
Because of Mitchell’s poor relationship skills, his many good ideas were
ignored or actively fought against by his peers and superiors. The lesson from
this is that it doesn’t matter how great a tactician or military theorist
someone is, if the ideas are not expressed in an appropriate manner and
relationships not developed with decision makers, nothing positive will be
achieved. For all the good leadership traits displayed by Mitchell, this one
negative trait undid all his good work throughout his career.
is important to study the history of past military leaders so that we can gain
an appreciation of the traits and principles that made them who they were. By studying their individual characteristics,
lessons can be learnt and applied to our modern forces to ensure that positive
traits are replicated and negative traits are nullified. This study of Mitchell
has shown that while he was a great visionary and saw the future of air power,
he also suffered from a critical failure in his ability to share his vision
with those around him. This led to irreconcilable differences, ultimately
leading to his removal from the military and limiting his ongoing impact
regarding the future of air power in the US.
By focusing on the positive traits and developing these in the next
generation of airmen and officers, while softening the tendency for negative
traits, a powerful force can be developed, leading to a highly professional and
adaptable air force.
four leadership principles which have been discussed, vision, passion, courage
and relationship building, can be adapted into the RMAF’s working environment
in order to become a dominant air power in the region.
RMAF needs to encourage personnel to develop vision for the future. When new concepts
are discovered or faults in the system are identified, personnel should be
encouraged to look for ways to improve the systems within the RMAF. Due to the
extensive lead time in developing and procuring assets, military organisations
around the world are notoriously slow to change and utilise the latest
technologies. By encouraging and pursuing open thoughts on the future
development of the RMAF, ideas that otherwise may not have been considered can
be. Sending personnel to civilian conferences and workshops, and engaging with
civilian corporations will help personnel broaden their own views and will
prevent them from developing a highly limited view of how the RMAF should
function. In order to get the RMAF to the forefront of modern militaries, the personnel
within the organisation must have a vision for the future force that may not
otherwise be currently considered.
is a difficult trait to foster as it is a natural response to the level of
value a person derives from their work. To encourage the development of passion
within RMAF personnel, they need to feel invested in the organisation. If
personnel do not feel that they are being listened to, or that their careers
are unnecessarily limited, it will be difficult for them to be passionate about
their work. One recommendation for the RMAF to consider would the removal of
promotion limitations for non-aircrew personnel. This is a significant
detractor from work within the RMAF, as non-aircrew all know that regardless of
how good they are at their job, their chances for promotion are severely
limited. This is unlikely to foster a strong passion for the organisation long
is a trait that needs to be instilled in all personnel in the RMAF. Courage on
the battle field is fairly well understood and this is not a major concern. The
courage that needs to be developed is for personnel to have the courage to
raise their concerns and ideas. To encourage this behaviour at all levels,
senior leaders need to be seen to actively question decisions to provide a
basis from which junior members can follow. While following orders without
question is a valuable trait within the military, leaders also need to be given
the latitude to ask questions when time permits. If there are issues seen or potential
improvements discovered, personnel should be encouraged to raise the issues,
even if they conflict with the current culture or present practices.
strong relationships is something that can be achieved through active
engagement at all levels. Relationships between the Army, Navy and Air Force
should be strong. Cooperation between the services is necessary to provide the
complete defence of Malaysia. Conducting joint exercises is an excellent way to
help each service understand how the other services function and how their
capabilities provide support to each other. These should continue and even when
single-service exercises are conducted, members from the other services should
be embedded into the exercise to provide insights otherwise not achievable. Through
this close involvement with each other, when new concepts and ideas are raised,
there is a better chance of them being seriously considered as a relationship
of cooperation will already be developed. This can furthered at the
international level by continuing with international engagement at the exercise
and course level. Through exercises such as BERSAMA Lima, inviting
international personnel to Malaysia and sending Malaysian personnel to other
countries will broaden and deepen our relationships with other countries. This
will provide the RMAF with information that will assist in its ongoing military
MOHD ISYRAQY BIN MUSTAFA
GROUP LEPADER SYNDICATE C2
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