Saturday, July 16, 2011

Field Marshal Moltke’s Four Types of Military Officer

Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800-1891) developed this interesting Value Matrix to categorize his officer corps.

• Smart & Lazy: I make them my Commanders because they make the right thing happen but find the easiest way to accomplish the mission.
• Smart & Energetic: I make them my General Staff Officers because they make intelligent plans that make the right things happen.
• Dumb & Lazy: There are menial tasks that require an officer to perform that they can accomplish and they follow orders without causing much harm
• Dumb & Energetic: These are dangerous and must be eliminated. They cause thing to happen but the wrong things so cause trouble.

Later Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein (1887-1973), arguably the Wehrmacht's best World War II military strategists who was dismissed from service by the Fuhrer in March 1944 due to frequent clashes with him over military strategy, later articulated Field Marshal Moltke’s model in the following quote:

“There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm…Second, there are the hard- working, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard- working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

I would suggest that both Field Marshals have correctly identified the four types of officers but would respectfully disagree about who is best suited for “highest office,” especially in today’s highly competitive environment. Smart & Energetic wins every time and only the truly driven or exceptionally lucky succeed.


  1. No reason why this should not be applied to people operating in the corporate business world. Todays MDs and CEOs may find Moltke's Value Matrix most relvant and useful. I wonder where they would place themselves, or where their own peers would place them in the Matrix??

  2. I briefed this to senior level executives at a Fortune 50 company in 2006 when I was there as the Commandant of the Marine Corps' National Fellow for a year. What the original poster didn't seem to understand was that the Germans didn't use the pejorative "lazy" as it comes across here. The point is that intelligent officers who lacked "industry" tended to find easier and lest costly (in terms of the lives of their men) ways to accomplish the mission. I would submit that intelligent and highly industrious officers/execs can function as commanders, but they tend to micromanage and wear their staffs out, hence Moltke's original assertion.

  3. Using less energy/resources to accomplish something is an evolutionary success tactic. So Smart & Lazy will always beat Smart & Energetic. For "Lazy", read "unwilling to waste energy".

  4. Frederick the Great of Brandenburg Prussia
    smart & industrious: only one, the leader, Frederick the Great himself.
    smart & lazy: only one, the second in command, since he is too lazy to mutiny against the leader so he will not try to mutiny against the leader, Frederick the Great.
    stupid & industrious: get rid of these, if they do something wrong on one item in an assembly line then they proceed to make the same mistake on every item.
    stupid & lazy: the rest of the army is to be soldiers who only obey orders and act only when compelled.

  5. I don't think Lazy is the correct translation. I think the concept they were identifying was calm/relaxed (lazy) vs hyperactive (energetic).

  6. I heard this story as follows:

    The lazy and stupid make excellent privates.

    The active and intelligent make excellent field officers.

    The lazy and intelligent make excellent staff officers.

    The active and stupid? I have them shot.

    1. No. Activate and intelligent make good deputies and other lower positions. Lazy and intelligent should be promoted to the highest positions.

  7. Play up the discipline factor. What's the first thing that comes to mind when most civilians think of military service? Discipline, a strong work ethic, or perhaps loyalty. Reading minds