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Leadership and Rulership: Noting the Difference

Pictured: Anatoly Merezhko at the age of 20 in 1941, a year before his participation in the battle for Stalingrad; A. Merezhko (far right) with Commander V. I. Chuikov (second from left).

In social science studies and within organizations, it is important to determine the difference between a ruler and a leader. Popper (2011) wrote the following to describe the contrast between the two constructs:

“There is a distinction that was made between rulership, which basically consists of obtaining the followers’ obedience by coercion, and leadership, which includes causing people to respond to the leader of their own free will, based on trust and enthusiasm. Leaders, unlike rulers, have the ability to harness the hearts and minds of followers.”

Although Marshal V. I. Chuikov was a strict disciplinarian, the distinction in his leadership is that he had the ability to inspire his soldiers to accomplish the impossible. Anatoly Merezhko served in the 62nd Army’s HQ as part of Lieutenant-General Chuikov’s staff. Having worked with him closely, he shared much information on his time with his Commander with Michael Jones for his book Stalingrad: How the Red Army Triumphed.

“Chuikov enforced iron discipline and those who deserted their positions would be shot. But he also created a spirit of unity in his army by praise. He instinctively understood a timeless military truth, put well by the Roman writer Vegetius: ‘Soldiers are corrected by fear and punishment in the camp; on the campaign, hope and rewards make them feel better.’ The ‘Not a Step Back!’ order was the bedrock of the Russian position at Stalingrad, but it could not create a fighting spirit in the army. Coercion was not enough.

‘We were not forced to perform heroic deeds at Stalingrad,’ Merezhko emphasized, ‘or pushed into them by commissars or political officers. Over time, our men felt proud to be part of this army—and the courage became our watchword.’ Chuikov said with real satisfaction to Vasily Grossman: ‘On other parts of the front they were worried that cowardice will spread amongst the men; here at Stalingrad it is courage which is infectious.’”

One of the ways in which Vasily Ivanovich helped to build courage in his soldiers was through his ingenuity and innovative approach to combat tactics and operations. In a different interview, Merezhko recalled:

“Here in this very photograph is the whole being of Chuikov—a Russian, sweeping character. He was bold, resourceful. Available to the soldiers, and at the same time, rudeness was characteristic of him. But even Rokossovsky wrote that only a man like Chuikov could defend Stalingrad. A lot can be said about him, even his conduct. If the Germans [adapted] to urban combat in any way, then he was constantly looking for ways to conduct urban combat. This is the assault group—after all, it is his offspring. Close combat is his offspring, night combat is his offspring. [Another tactic is] active defense—that is, do not defend, but counterattack continuously, with small forces, but counterattack. Do not give the German peace, do not give confidence that he is the master here—this is his ... All this was passed on to the end.”


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