General Erich von Manstein is widely regarded as Germany’s most brilliant general during World War 2. He masterminded the fall of France in 6 weeks and his Army Group led many of the decisive moves on the Eastern Front.
In his war memoirs*, he is candid about the underlying reason why Germany lost the battle on the Eastern Front and thus the war. The defeat in the East was principally due to his failure to negotiate effectively with the High Command and with Hitler.
Two recurring themes run through the entire account of the campaign: Manstein’s plans for achieving a decisive defeat of the Russian Forces (and in the later stages to secure at least a draw), and his inability to gain the support he needed from Hitler and the High Command.
Hitler was chiefly concerned with occupying and holding territory. Manstein sought to defeat his opponent. Time and time again, Manstein pleaded for EITHER a greater allocation of new troops to hold territory OR the freedom to use his existing troops flexibly to deliver decisive blows against the Russians. Not once was he able to secure a clear agreement to either. It was a classic case of a failed internal negotiation – with predictable results.
In the end, with the 1st Panzer Army trapped by the enemy, Manstein forced Hitler’s hand. He threatened to resign his command if he was not given leave to direct his troops as he saw fit to avoid a repeat of the Stalingrad disaster. Hitler yielded and the 1st Panzer Army escaped annihilation.
Only five days later, Manstein was ordered back to the High Command where he was ceremoniously thanked for his dedicated service and relieved of his command. He was told to ‘rest himself for the defence in the West’, but never called up again to lead troops in battle.
Not everyone has the misfortune of having to negotiate with a megalomaniac dictator. That said, time and time again, participants in our professional negotiation skills programs comment that internal negotiations are often much more difficult and protracted than external negotiations.
If history tells us anything, it’s that the only way to win our external battles is to make sure that you have the skills and the discipline to secure a clear mandate and solid internal support first.
Dr Matt Lohmeyer
*Verlorene Siege, ISBN-13: 978-3763752539 – for an English edition see Lost Victories, ISBN-13: 978-0891411307.