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A Demotion and a Life Lesson

Pictured: Lieutenant-General V. I. Chuikov, Commander of the 62nd Army in Stalingrad, 1942.

As a professor of business and leadership courses, I have the opportunity to share personal professional experiences with my students about important life lessons as well as social science theories. Several years ago, when I served as a social worker in economic services, I was tasked with helping clients in their search for jobs to help them become less dependent upon SNAP benefits (a description of SNAP is here). I conducted job readiness training with individuals who came through the SNAP to Work program funded by the US Department of Agriculture. As part of this training, we discussed ways to answer behavioral interview questions, one of which is typically asked in employment interviews—“Tell me about a time you had to handle a conflict.” The answers I received from my clients were often humorous, as one can imagine.

One particular client shared about a time when he had a fistfight with a customer in a fast-food restaurant. An inebriated man who had been served at the drive-thru window received an incorrect order. Annoyed, the customer came into the store and threw his large, ice beverage at my client, dousing him in cold carbonated soda. In a quick flash of his temper, my client jumped over the counter and proceeded to “duke it out” with the drunkard in the restaurant lobby, which carried over to an all-out fight in the parking lot. Aside from losing his position, my client also ended up having an assault charge filed against him. In this conversation, I shared with him and my other clients: “We don’t always have to show up to every fight we are invited to,” and advised them to choose battles wisely. In the realm of social sciences, this is referred to as having emotional intelligence, or EQ. When another person acts in ways that are insulting and belligerent, it is best to not react in haste. Sometimes this is difficult to do, however...

Back to the present... As my blog demonstrates, there is a mass of anecdotes which speak volumes about the effectiveness of Marshal Chuikov as a leader. He was also well known for his generosity and gregarious nature, and he knew how to connect with others no matter what their rank or status was. Along with these positive traits, however, Vasily Ivanovich had an explosive temper which I wrote about in a previous entry titled “Authenticity and the Achilles’ Heel.” In an interview with Marshal Chuikov’s grandson Nikolai Vladimirovich, he shared the following anecdote about a time when his grandfather allowed his temper to get the best of him after being highly insulted, which led to a demotion in position. Being demoted most likely taught Chuikov a difficult but important lesson about EQ:

“On 27 May 1929, the Chinese police raided the Soviet consulate in Harbin, arresting 80 people and seizing documents. Chuikov returned to Vladivostok in a roundabout way through Japan and was sent to Khabarovsk, where the Special Far Eastern Army was formed to repel the aggression of the Chinese, supported by Russian white émigrés and Western powers. ‘We, speaking Chinese and knowing the situation in China, were seconded to the army headquarters,’ wrote Chuikov about his experiences. During the liquidation of the conflict on the Chinese Eastern Railroad, he was next to the Army Commander Vasily Konstantinovich Blyukher and became the head of the 1st (intelligence) department of the Red Army headquarters.

[However] in 1932, Chuikov was demoted: the head of advanced training courses for intelligence officers at the IV Directorate of the Red Army was transferred to Zagoryanka as the Chief of Staff of the Red Army. The reason was a conflict with a member of the Military Council of the Army. According to Nikolai Vladimirovich, on one of his anniversaries, [Chuikov’s colleague] said something grandiosely insulting to his grandfather and immediately got punched in the face. ‘Chuikov was saved by his military past—a hero of the Civil War, of peasant origin. But the main thing is that the Lord saved him, as if saving him for a more important mission.’” Ten years later, Lieutenant-General Chuikov would be promoted to serve as the Commander of the 62nd Army in one of the most pivotal battles in human history…


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