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When the Leader Becomes a Follower


Pictured: Commander of the 8th Guards Army, Colonel-General V.I. Chuikov with soldiers and commanders, 1944


One year after the massive Red Army victory at Stalingrad, the war waged on and Chuikov’s 8th Guards were in the thick of the offensive. After clearing the Germans out of Russia, the 8th Guards Army pushed through Ukraine to liberate towns and villages. Vasily Ivanovich was promoted to Colonel-General in 1943, and there was a strong bond of trust and comradery with his soldiers. While he was their leader, he was also in the position of being a follower and listening to his subordinates. The concept of leadership comes from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by the understanding that they belong to the same social group. To be effective leaders, people must share their followers’ values, concerns and experiences, and advance the interests of the group rather than their own. Moreover, it means that the leader must listen to—and take advice from—their followers. The following excerpt from Stalingrad Guards Go West describes one such instance. While traversing on horseback on the difficult roads in Ukraine, Chuikov’s life depended upon his willingness to listen and take instruction from his subordinates.


“On the morning of 6 February 1944, I decided to track how the 27th Guards Rifle Division, which was moving out of the Novo-Ivanovka area through Chervony Zaporozhets to Tok station, would be brought into action. It was impossible to go by car. The adjutant and I got on the riding horses. To Tok station the road lay through Bazavluk, Tokovskoye, where we could cross the bridge over Kamenka.


Leaving Bazavluk, we saw a road with deeply cut ruts. It seemed to us a good reference point. We decided that our units had passed here, and calmly drove along it. The sun was beating in our faces, so we were moving south. The direction seems to be taken correctly. We rode across the field along the broken track. However, for a long time no one came across us. A doubt crept in me, are we going right? We climbed the hillock. I decided to check the map and stopped the horses. An adjutant and a horseman stopped behind me. I unfolded the map... And suddenly, from somewhere from the side, bursts of automatic weapons and rifle shots were heard. Bullets whistled. My horse reared up and fell to the ground. An old cavalry habit helped me out--I managed to free my legs from the stirrups and, jumping off the saddle, immediately fell into a deep road rut.


The adjutant and the horse breeder were beside me. Almost simultaneously, they shouted for me to mount one of their horses. In response, I ordered: 'Get off! Get down!'


They both fell into a rut. A second later, their horses were also cut off by automatic fire. The car tracks were profoundly deep. We lay for several minutes without moving. Bullets dug into the ground very closely. We pretended to be dead for a while. But it was impossible to lie idle for a long time. […] I was wearing a general's hat with a red top and trousers with stripes--in a word, signs well known to the Germans. And lying still was unbearable. Icy water seeped through the clothes and bound the body with cold hoops.


We crawled along the track. The enemy noticed the movement and increased submachine gunfire. The adjutant shouted from behind:


‘Commander! Throw down your hat! They're aiming at the red top!’ The appeal was, of course, not in form, but before the observance of the form in this position?


I took off my cap, but the German fire did not stop. We crawled on our bellies. Very soon, liquid mud was crammed into the cuffs of my hunting cowhide boots. The adjutant advised me to throw off the boots. I had to obey him again. […] What does it mean to crawl through liquid mud? We moved forward, shoveling the mud like a bulldozer. Soon, we heard that the bullets no longer lay near us but flew over us much higher. Therefore, we descended from the hillock into the dead space. We crawled for a while more as a precaution. Finally, the shelling stopped. We got up and went to the village.”


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