The art of command in war and business

The Life: What could business leaders learn from military strategists of the past? Quite a lot, argues Stephen Bungay, author of The Art of Action.

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Often filled with hyperbole and glowing praise from obscure experts, the inside jacket of a book is typically designed to help sell numerous copies of an author's work.

Considering the usual practice, one description of Stephen Bungay's latest book is both refreshing and accurate: "The Art of Action is scholarly but engaging, rigorous but pragmatic, and shows how common sense can sometimes be surprising."

Similarly, Mr Bungay is forthcoming about how much of what he writes is not exactly ground-breaking when it comes to three core principles that link the gaps between military or business strategies and their actual operations: deciding what really matters; getting the message across; and giving people space and support.

"The principles are probably no surprise," Mr Bungay writes, "although it may be surprising how much of a difference they make."

So why read this book?

Business executives and professionals who are history buffs will certainly appreciate the parallels drawn between strategically leading an army and a workforce. Beyond that, the book offers practical advice from a man who is both a military historian and director of the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre in London, where he teaches programmes for business executives.

Many readers are likely to find Mr Bungay's "quick recap" at the end of each chapter a helpful summary. These become particularly beneficial when passages stretch on - in classic scholarly fashion - about famous military leaders such as Helmuth Carl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, a German field marshal whom Mr Bungay would tap today to lead a Fortune 500 company for his ability to stick to his job and allow his underlings to do theirs.

Unfortunately, though, the book is short on real-life case studies that may have been available to Mr Bungay, considering that he worked 17 years at Boston Consulting Group in London and Munich. As the book jacket notes, The Art of Action is engaging but scholarly.

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