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Marshal Chuikov’s Effective Leadership, Part 1: Path-Goal Theory

Pictured: Colonel-General V. I. Chuikov, Commander of the 62nd-8th Guards Army, 1943.

Over the past year, I have shared various anecdotes highlighting the life and work of Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov which demonstrate his outstanding, authentic leadership qualities. I think Chuikov exemplifies effective leadership practices, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore his experiences to gain knowledge and emulate his example. Utilizing a longitudinal approach to my study, I have referenced several western leadership and social science theories to examine the contributing factors to his leadership success.

Leadership theories exist to provide a framework through which practitioners and researchers can gain clarity on what behaviors exemplify effective leadership. One example is the Path-Goal Theory, developed by theorist Robert House in the 1970s. According to the Path-Goal Theory, leadership behavior is seen as a source of influence that can have a measurable and lasting effect on subordinates' attitudes, motivations, and behaviors. The four path-goal types of leader behaviors are listed in bold, and an example from Marshal Chuikov’s life and work is presented to explore each factor.

Directive: In this role, the leader informs followers what is expected of them, instructing them on what is expected of them, how to perform a task, and scheduling and coordinating their tasks in a timely manner. The strategy works best when people are uncertain about the task or when the environment is uncertain.

In his book titled In the Battles for Ukraine, Marshal Chuikov outlined tasks to be completed for the next steps for the amount and frequency of training which needed to take place during the Great Patriotic War. Teaching replacement troops how to fight well and survive took consistent study and effort, and this training meant everyone—from the Military Council to the ordinary soldier—had to be vigilant and prepared.

The simplest enumeration of the obstacles that we had to overcome already shows how many-sided training the soldiers, junior commanders and officers should have had.

Unshot people poured into the army, and each had to start all over again. Learn to dig in, teach to bury yourself in the ground, cultivate a respectful attitude towards a shovel, a helmet, teach to crawl on the ground without raising your head, merging with the ground, leveling with the grass.

How to throw a grenade—this is also a kind of art, and it's not just about throwing the grenade as far as possible. The throw must be accurate. Accurate in place, accurate in time. It must explode exactly at the moment when its explosion is most effective. In a word, in all units, in all subdivisions, stubborn studies were going on..."

Supportive: The leader enhances the working environment for the workers by being friendly and approachable and showing concern for them. Generally, this approach works best when tasks or relationships present physical or psychological challenges due to their physical or psychological nature.

In his book titled Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed, Michael Jones shared the example of Chuikov’s efforts to improve conditions for his soldiers by setting the standard of officers sharing their meals with front-line soldiers. The effect of these actions lifted soldier morale significantly.

“Mereshko spoke of an immediate change in the atmosphere under Chuikov, which ultimately led to a unique spirit of equality and unity within the army. He gave an important practical example:

‘Officers received more butter, biscuits, and sugar in their rations, and also factory-made cigarettes. When Chuikov took command, something astonishing happened. Commanders of units were strongly encouraged to bring their rations into the dugout and share it with their soldiers. In fact, over time, it was considered almost a criminal offense if an officer ate or smoked without sharing with his soldiers.’

‘You could see it in the little things,’ said [Konstantin] Kazarin. ‘As an officer, I got extra rations, so I would take the food down and share it with my men. My gesture was really appreciated. Once I brought some salted herring. I was struck by the painstaking way that my soldiers divided that fish—counting for exactly the number of people they had. In the midst of all the horror and chaos, it was such loving care and attention to detail.’ Out of myriad moments like these arose real comradeship in battle.'

Mikhail Borchev, in charge of a Katyusha unit at Stalingrad, confirmed this: ‘Everything changed when Chuikov took command. Our army now had a new maxim: The regular soldier is all-important—it is he who defends the commander.’"

Achievement: An effective leader demonstrates confidence in the team by setting challenging goals and expecting high performance of followers. Leadership shows confidence that team members are able to meet these high expectations.

In Marshal Chuikov’s book titled The Fall of Berlin, he described the importance of being a Guards-designated army as well as his sense of pride in being the commander of such an elite force:

“Our army had always fought on the main line of advance, and had carried out every assignment as it should be done, like Guardsmen. Now, in a new situation, on a new front, it must take up the place due to it. The prospect now before us was of showing in practice, in the very first attack we made, what Guards regiments could do. Practically every man feels a heightened sense of his own dignity when he faces a new situation and has new duties to measure up to.

Nature has not left me devoid of such feelings. Incidentally I do not believe people who assume an unreal modesty and allege that they do not think of themselves, of their own dignity. Nonsense? In warfare the absence of feelings of self-assertion makes a man indifferent, uninterested. Could I, in this new situation, be indifferent to the fighting fame of my regiments? Of course not. If it were otherwise, better to hand your army over to another and go on the retired list” (26).

Participative: Prior to making a decision on how to proceed, the leader consults with his followers to ensure that the outcome is as expected. Having highly trained subordinates, who are engaged and have high levels of responsibility, is key to its success.

In Michael Jones’ book Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed, Vasily Ivanovich’s ability to listen to his soldiers and willingness to implement their ideas proved to be a winning approach to withstanding German attacks and ultimately defeating them:

“[Chuikov] listened to his men’s ideas and tried to incorporate them. By allowing his men an unusual degree of combat initiative, the great strength of his opponents, their well-honed, methodical and disciplined approach, began to turn into a weakness, an over-regimented and inflexible way of fighting. When Chuikov generated a spirit of inventiveness in his army—encouraging a different way of fighting—it shook the enemy. German soldiers began to complain of ‘hooliganism,’ the ‘gangster methods’ employed by Red Army troops. They didn’t like being jolted out of their routine and were unsettled—not knowing what to expect next” (179).


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