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Great Military Leaders: Frederick the Great

Podcast featuring Wes O’Donnell, Editor, AMU Edge and
Dr. Kelly JordanFaculty Member, Military and National Security Studies

Greatness as a military leader isn’t all about battlefield victories, it’s about understanding a leader’s strategies, circumstances, and tactics. In this episode, Wes O’Donnell talks to AMU Military History professor Dr. Kelly Jordan about what qualifies Frederick the Great as a great military leader. Learn about his focus on training his soldiers, which enabled them to have the skills and discipline to respond quickly when Frederick recognized opportunities in battle, thus outmaneuvering his often much larger opponents and losing fewer soldiers in battle. Learn how Frederick himself prepared relentlessly by studying war, developing fundamental principles of battle, and employing unique strategies like the oblique offensive. Also learn what today’s military leaders can learn from Frederick the Great’s strategies and tactics. 

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Wes O’Donnell: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Wes O’Donnell. Today, we’re going to talk about great military leaders. Specifically, another one of my personal favorites is Frederick the Great. My returning guest today is Dr. Kelly Jordan. Kelly is an associate professor of Military and National Security Studies at American Military University, and has an incredible knowledge of great military leaders of the past, and what we can learn from them today. Kelly, it’s great to have you on the podcast.

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Great and happy to be here, Wes.

Wes O’Donnell: So let’s start our conversation by talking about Frederick, King of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. But before we start as a military historian, can you provide us with a brief review of how you determine what makes a great military leader?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Certainly. Today, yeah, we’re talking about Fredrick the Great. He’s a man who brought the military revolution begun by Maurice of Nassau, and spread by Gustavus Adolphus, to its pinnacle. He was a master of maneuver and battle tactics who regularly defeated armies far larger than his own, and who essentially perfected the art of limited war in his own time. Many say that he possessed a level of mastery of the art of war rarely achieved or surpassed.

In this series and in our course in American Military University, we define great military leaders as a military genius, who demonstrates a mastery of the art of war while leading in battle or war. Then we further break down those three components of military genius as being comprised of possessing the eye of command, a superior intellect, and tremendous creativity.

As a mastery of the art of war as encompassing the theory of war, the science of war and experience, and leading in battle being manifested by courage, vision, and morality. So that’s how we define it in the program, Wes.

[Listen to the first episode, Great Military Leaders: Frederick the Great]

Wes O’Donnell: Very interesting. So can you provide us with a brief biographical sketch of Frederick the Great?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Who was Frederick? That’s so fascinating. Frederick the Great was a person who didn’t like to speak German and spoke French very unusually. People said that he spoke it as a king would speak it. So Frederick the Great was the king of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786, as you mentioned. He was born in Berlin on January 24th, 1712, and he had a difficult upbringing, clashing often with his iron-willed father.

Upon the death of his father, Frederick assumed the throne on May 31st, 1740 under very low expectations of almost everyone, including himself. However, after a little over six months into his reign, he seized on the opportunity to begin unifying the disparate portions of Prussia by invading Silesia, beginning the War of the Austrian Succession. While experiencing just enough victories to be successful on the battlefield, Frederick obtained Silesia as a result of the treaty ending the war in 1742.

Frederick spent nearly a decade improving his army, retraining and reorganizing it to enable him to implement his innovative way of war, and writing his famous Instructions for his Generals in 1747, which described and explained his system of making war.

His next notable military engagements occurred during the Seven Years’ War, which began with his invasion of Saxony in 1756. While not always successful, as a result of his famous victories at Rossbach, Zorndorf, and especially the tactical masterpiece of the Battle of Leuthen, along with his innovative maneuver and use of interior lines to maintain control of his country, Frederick established himself as the supreme military commander of his time.

Gaining control of Saxony made Prussia a great power in Europe. After rebuilding Prussia at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ war in 1763, Frederick gained West Prussia in 1772, completing his efforts to unify the land area of Prussia. As a result, Frederick became King of Prussia. Frederick died quietly on August 17th, 1786 after making Prussia one of Europe’s great powers and setting the stage for the creation of the German Empire in the next century. While doing so Frederick, earned the admiration of military commanders up to the present and the sobriquet of Frederick the Great.

Wes O’Donnell: So can you set the stage for the situation and the opportunities Frederick faced in his time?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Certainly. Upon the death of his father, Frederick William I, in 1740, Frederick Alexander became King in Prussia, but not of Prussia, since roughly one-half of the territory, specifically the Electorate of Brandenburg, remained part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Prussian army that he assumed command of numbered approximately 80,000. They were highly disciplined and formidable troops loyal to the crown and not to the nobles. In some ways, the notion of Prussia being described as an army with a state was a fairly accurate description of the situation Frederick faced when he became King of Prussia or King in Prussia on May 31st, 1740.

The most pressing strategic issue facing the new king was the separation between the Electorate of Brandenburg to the west and the Duchy of Prussia to the east. These two areas were divided by the territory known as West Prussia, which did not belong to Frederick. Uniting the territories of Brandenburg and Prussia would become Frederick’s driving purpose throughout his reign.

Just to set the context because these are old designations, I’ll note that to the Southeast of Brandenburg was the territory of Silesia, and gaining possession of it would strengthen the security of both Brandenburg and Prussia. To the immediate south of Brandenburg was the territory of Saxony, and gaining control over it would further strengthen the security of Brandenburg.

So, when we’re looking at Frederick’s strategic situation and opportunity, the notion that he needed to gain control of Silesia, Saxony, and West Prussia in order to unite East Prussia and the Electorate of Brandenburg was really what he was focused on.

Wes O’Donnell: Well, that’s excellent, Kelly. So the last time we spoke, we talked about Alexander the Great and his very particular way of making war. So did Frederick have a particular way of making war?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Oh, he certainly did. Frederick’s tactics and maneuvers that he used to unite the Prussian territory included the following: A reliance on highly disciplined infantry soldiers trained to fire more rapidly than other soldiers and drilled to perfection, which reduced the casualties during both their attack and their infrequent retreats.

Frederick also used what became known as the Oblique Order, which was a weighting of one side of the line of battle to produce a numerical superiority, to facilitate creating a breakthrough. Frederick augmented the Oblique Order with the use of mobile artillery, attached to the cavalry to enable it to move rapidly where it needed to be, to influence the outcome of the battle.

In terms of focus, Frederick was more focused on achieving a tactical victory, but not at the expense of his own army. To do so he used interior lines to take advantage of his central position by shuttling his relatively few troops to meet the external threats along Prussia’s borders. Frederick made use of superb logistical support using an ingenious system of magazines to provide fresh supplies for the army in support of its maneuvers within the country and his battles.

It’s important to note that Frederick’s approach to warfare focused on making the most effective use of his relatively small armed forces in comparison to the European forces that could be marshaled against him, that these forces were finite, meaning that they depleted over time and when used, especially during the Seven Years’ War. Frederick was only grudgingly willing to use the fewest number of foreign mercenaries possible in his army. This approach is essential for us to recognize and truly appreciate Frederick’s greatness.

Now, Frederick’s motives for using this powerful instrument of war included the need to anticipate potential invasions of Prussian territory with its open indefensible borders, the desire for territorial expansion, especially to further his objective of unifying Brandenburg and Prussia, and a little bit vaingloriously, the desire to astonish and excel, which transformed Frederick the artist and Frederick the scholar into Frederick the warrior and Frederick the soldier.

Wes O’Donnell: It seems clear now that Frederick the Great was a devoted student of war. Can you share some of his thoughts on the making of war with us?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Absolutely. Frederick is unique, but not so for great captains, but he’s unique in some ways, because of the way that he assiduously studied war. Frederick believed that the conduct of war relied upon fixed principles and known elements grounded in a discernible theory that could be identified and understood by deliberate study. He studied the campaigns of Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, and other successful commanders assiduously.

Frederick believed in preparation as the key to victory, and he drilled his troops relentlessly while also doing his own type of demanding preparation. His method of campaign planning was quite modern. He was steadfast in ensuring that he considered certain fundamental principles each and every time. He also paid much attention to every aspect of intelligence. For Frederick, it was pardonable to be defeated, but never to be either surprised or outfought.

Frederick also believed it to be an incontestable truth that retaining the initiative was essential and far better than having to react to the enemy. An ardent believer in the power of the offensive, one of his favorite sayings was that “Great things are achieved only when we take great risks.”

Frederick avoided the defense whenever possible, which was an unusual position in the age of limited war that prioritized the value of protection in the defense over the potential losses of the offensive.

When his forces were scattered throughout Prussian territory in times of peace, Frederick demanded that every unit was able to assemble anywhere within Prussian territory within six-days’ notice. Frederick believed that exploiting Prussia’s advantage of its central position by concentrating his forces rapidly and achieving a decisive tactical victory could more than compensate for his inferiority in terms of troop numbers.

Now, despite all these good qualities, Frederick had very poor relationships with most of his officers. The discipline he imposed on his soldiers was harsh, some would even say ferocious, but probably not all that unreasonable for the time. He relied primarily upon Prussian soldiers for nationalistic reasons, also based on the proclivity of foreign troops to desert once exposed to the harsh Prussian discipline.

When moving at a respectable rate of about 12 to 15 miles a day, the Prussian army was organized with an advanced guard of handpicked troops, a main body moving in columns, and a rear guard. Frederick himself marched with the advanced guard. Like the practice of the Roman army, the Prussian army established a fortified camp each night. Frederick also paid close attention to logistics and ensuring that his forces remained well provisioned throughout any campaign. So that’s a pretty comprehensive summary of Frederick’s way of war.

Wes O’Donnell: So I guess the next question would be then, how was Frederick in battle?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Well, that’s a great question because the other part of a great military leader is not only knowing what to do, but being able to do it in the heat of battle. In action, Frederick was both prudent and adroit, taking the initiative to achieve a decisive victory but not to annihilate an opposing force, which may have been too costly in terms of losses, however attractive it may have been militarily.

Perhaps even more importantly, achieving a decisive tactical victory while losing the fewest number of troops possible also won Frederick the decisive advantages of time and the freedom to shift his limited forces where they were most needed, making him in many ways, a superior strategist to the great Napoleon. For Frederick, then, a decisive victory had much more to do with allowing him to retain the initiative than it did with the complete destruction of an opposing force, and that sets him apart from other great military leaders.

In terms of in battle itself, Frederick used his infantry supported by the artillery and cavalry to provide him the mass necessary to break through enemy formations, and relied upon the iron discipline of his troops to win the day in most battles. Frederick fought using his unique Oblique Order of attack, combining the power of his infantry, artillery, and cavalry into unprecedented levels of lethality.

Now, the Oblique Order is interesting because it brought a powerful concentration of force against a chosen sector of the enemy line by stacking his forces unequally on one side of the formation to provide overwhelming superiority at the desired point of attack to produce a breakthrough.

Frederick used artillery to support the infantry attack, and his exceptionally well-trained and well-led cavalry exploited the breakthrough and induced panic in the opposing force. First employed in ancient times, it gained a resurgence during the early modern period, although Frederick contended that he came up with this all on his own.

Made possible by the high level of discipline within the Prussian ranks and Frederick’s own decisions, this revived concept evolved under Frederick and gained even greater lethality when paired with rapid musket fire, the fire power of his mobile artillery, and a culminating charge with bayonets fixed to achieve the desired breakthrough, followed by the cavalry’s coup de grace.

Arranging his forces in this manner also provided Frederick with a force he could control during the actual battle itself, as he could call upon portions of the refused other wing of the army to respond to opportunities he recognized, which was also quite an advantage.

Frederick rarely engaged in pursuits of defeated opponents, believing the potential costs of the ensuing losses would far outweigh the potential gains of destroying an opposing army completely. So, as capable as he was in thinking about war, he was equally capable in actually fighting on the battlefield itself.

Wes O’Donnell: Kelly, with this background in mind, what were some of Frederick’s most important battles?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Frederick is a very interesting great military leader because overall his record was a mediocre eight and eight, which in today’s NFL would get you fired as a head coach. But we have to note a couple of things. One is that Frederick almost always fought outnumbered. Two, we have to keep in mind what I just mentioned about his notion of decisive victory or tactical victory being one that preserved his army and also which allowed him to retain the initiative to shift his forces and protect his territory.

So I’ll identify three important battles for Frederick, all of which occurred during the Seven Years’ War. So the first battle was the Battle of Rossbach, which occurred on November 5th, 1757. Frederick marched approximately 21,000 soldiers, 170 miles in 12 days to meet approximately 41,000 French troops in Saxony, just south of Leipzig.

His opponents sought to crush his left flank, and Frederick anticipated their plan using favorable terrain to maneuver into a more advantageous position. The Prussians crack infantry crashed in the enemy’s right flank behind the fire of 18 heavy artillery guns, creating a breakthrough which turned into a panicked retreat that was as costly as it was disorganized.

Sustaining fewer than 600 casualties on his own forces, he inflicted over 8,000 casualties on the French troops. These losses rendered the French army largely impotent. The Prussian victory secured its western border from future French attacks and allowed Frederick to place a subordinate commander in charge of a token force there so that he could focus his attention and the majority of his forces elsewhere, thus retaining flexibility and initiative.

Frederick’s masterpiece occurred one month later at the Battle of Leuthen, fought on December 5th, 1757. Retracing his route from Rossbach, Frederick pulled together a force of approximately 35,000 Prussian troops to face an opposing force of somewhere between 60,000 and 72,000 Australian soldiers blocking his way towards Breslau.

Again making superb use of terrain to mask his movements, along with an effective feint that deceived the enemy commander, Frederick struck the Austrian’s on their extreme left of their line behind a powerful artillery bombardment and used the Oblique Order to break through the Austrian’s left flank, roll up the Austrian’s position from south to north, and rout the enemy.

While somewhat more costly in terms of casualties suffered by his own forces, Frederick captured almost 20,000 Austrians, and the Austrian army was destroyed as a result of the Prussian victory and would not take the field again until the following summer.

Frederick’s victory also cleared the way for him to recapture the important city of Breslau. The strategic implications of the battle secured Frederick’s gains and Saxony as a result of Rossbach and rendered both the French and Austrian armies incapable of launching offensives for at least six months, which allowed Frederick a much needed respite to reconstitute his army.

Napoleon admire this battle greatly, remarking that it was a masterpiece of movements, maneuvers, and resolution sufficient on its own merits to immortalize Frederick and rank him among the greatest of generals.

Now having taken care of the French at Rossbach, and the Austrians at Leuthen, the final enemy that Frederick had to deal with were the Russians. These he faced the next year at the Battle of Zorndorf on August 25th, 1758.

Responding to a threat to Brandenburg, Frederick brought together 36,000 Prussian troops to attack approximately 42,000 Russians, occupying a poorly designed defensive position at Zorndorf. The Russians were organized in three large squares, separated by marshland and were thus not mutually supporting.

Frederick exploited this situation to defeat each force separately. By nightfall, he had secured the victory and succeeded in removing the Russian threat in Brandenburg, allowing Frederick to turn his attention back towards the Austrian threat, which was at this point, he deemed his greatest threat.

So, while his record is somewhat uneven before and after the Seven Years’ War, these victories that I’ve identified at Rossbach, Leuthen, and Zorndorf, allowed Frederick to retain possession of both Silesia and Saxony, and solidified his reputation as the greatest military leader of his day during the Seven Years’ War.

Wes O’Donnell: This is all great information. I already have a much better understanding of Frederick the Great. But going back to the criteria that you identified at the beginning for determining what makes a great military leader, how does Frederick rate as a military leader?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Great question, Wes. As a military leader, Frederick was a great military leader because he possessed the courage, vision, and morality in battle and war. Let me explain. Despite departing the battlefield early on a couple of occasions, Frederick routinely braved the elements and marched with his soldiers, sharing their hardships. He placed himself in danger, he moved with the advanced guard where he could be most effective in developing a battle plan by the time the main body closed on his position, so they would not have to sit idle and/or become vulnerable and exposed while he deliberated. He remained conspicuously visible on the battlefield during engagements so that his soldiers could be inspired by his presence. In fact, it was reported that he had at least six horses shot out from under him during battle.

He brought his vision for a disciplined army that could be called upon to fight quickly on multiple fronts to defend Prussia and expand its borders into reality. He knew how to effectively employ his men with the conservancy of effort to yield desired results while also protecting his force as much as possible.

He trained his army so that he could implement his innovative Oblique Order, which not only provided Prussia with a marked advantage in battle, but also helped ensure his troops were victorious on the battlefield and thus less subject to the casualties suffered by the defeated.

As a leader, Frederick trusted his own judgment. Since he would do the thinking, he demanded a level of discipline in his army that ensured that his soldiers would obey his orders instantly and unhesitatingly so that they could take advantage of the opportunities he recognized.

While the discipline he imposed on his soldiers and officers was harsh, it was largely in keeping with the practices of his time. You could argue that it had a certain morality to it as it reduced Prussian casualties and allowed the Prussians to win often, thereby sparing them the larger numbers of casually suffered by defeated opponents and allowed the Prussians to enjoy the benefits of enhanced security. So in these ways, Frederick demonstrated his courage, vision, and morality, and thus qualifies as a great military leader.

Wes O’Donnell: Then, I guess the next question is, if that’s how he rates as a military leader, how does he rate as a military genius?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Well, in two ways that I’ll address. One is I’ll talk about Frederick’s mastery of the art of war. Then I’ll talk about him as a genius because those are different components. Mastery is something that you can develop, which takes time, effort, and energy to maintain and which can be lost. Whereas genius is thought of as something that’s inherent and that you either have, or you don’t.

It appears from the historical record that Frederick possessed both. He was a master in terms of the art of war. We assess that in terms of looking at his knowledge and ability in the areas of theory of war, the science of war, and his overall military experience. In terms of the theory of war, Frederick was a student of military history and theory. He once said, “War is not an affair of chance. A great deal of knowledge, study, and meditation is necessary to conduct it well.” Practicing what he preached, Frederick taught himself to take advantage of almost all types of terrain, and he adjusted his approach to warfare based upon the situation and enemy he faced.

In terms of strategy, Frederick maximized the means of an agrarian economy to accomplish his desired ends of uniting the Prussian lands. He was a master of the high-level strategy of government and properly adjusted his tactics to conform to the political realities he faced. Frederick also understood how to apply the Principles of War of Offensive, Surprise, Mass, Maneuver, and Economy of Force. He was a master at the art of employing these principles effectively to gain the advantage on the battlefield.

Translating this theory into practice, Frederick’s demand for his soldiers to operate with the highest level of discipline allowed them to be capable of not only employing the Oblique Order, but doing so with devastating effectiveness. Indeed the Oblique Order he employed successfully integrated the Principles of War and allowed the Prussians to defeat larger enemy forces, time and time again.

Frederick mastered all aspects of the science of war, including the establishing and operating from a secure base of operations, training, formations, logistics, interior lines, and tactical formations. He increased the number, mobility, and lethality of his army, and he enhanced the mobility of his infantry to reduce its vulnerability, and he developed a way to keep his army supplied and resupplied on campaign.

Assessing him as a practitioner of war, we find that Frederick was the greatest commander of his age because he was more willing to engage in offensive operations, confident of his ability to win. He was able to achieve decisive victories on the battlefield while protecting Prussian territory and never putting his army in danger of being annihilated.

These characteristics combined to make Frederick the greatest practitioner of limited war, who would not be eclipsed until the period of total war ushered in by the French Revolution and the appearance of Napoleon later. So that’s how Frederick stacks up in terms of being a master of the art of war.

We have to change our focus just a little bit to look at him in terms of being a military genius, but he also comes out pretty darn good there as well. Now, the notion of genius is a bit vague, so we have to approach it somewhat carefully when applying it to military leaders and great captains.

Genius is a special combination of superb intellect and creativity, which leads to an ability referred to as the eye of command, to mentally fill in the gaps to create a complete picture of the situation, and construct a complete and intelligible whole out of the incomplete and unintelligible parts available to all and allowing one to be able to do what most of us cannot.

The essence of genius is about how they combine intellect and creativity to see things differently, in fact, to see things that most of us cannot. As applied to the military, one author contends that “Only genius is capable of animating the military spirit of a fighting force sufficiently to make it invincible.”

Now in the AMU Military Studies Program, we have identified military genius as being comprised of three elements: the eye of command, intellect, and creativity. We may conclude that great military leaders use their gift of the eye of command, in conjunction with their intellect and creativity, to decide and act more correctly and rapidly than their opponents, and that their military genius allows them to touch and turn the soul of battle to their own advantage and find ways to win where others would not. Frederick the Great qualifies as a military genius precisely because he demonstrated time and again, that he possessed the eye of command, a superior intellect, and tremendous creativity.

So, one definition of military genius is one who can produce original contributions out of the forces of war to produce results as startling as they are incomprehensible to the non-genius. In Clausewitzian terms, this equated to being able to “overcome the fog and friction of war, regardless of situation or circumstance.”

Frederick was renowned for having an enhanced ability to deal with the uncertainty, unknowns (or friction), and unseen, (or fog), of battle. For his contemporaries, Frederick’s genius was manifest in his Instructions to the Generals, which was a closely guarded state secret and as highly sought after as the secret recipe for KFC’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, achieved through some mysterious mix of 11 herbs and spices, and the recipe of which is kept under lock and key to this day. That may have been so in his time and others certainly believed that his work contained the secrets of war and the wisdom of the ages.

However, when read today, it doesn’t hold up quite as well in terms of qualifying as a brilliant manifesto in the league of Clausewitz’s, “On War,” or Sun Tzu’s, “The Art of War.” From my perspective, and having studied this idea for some time, I offer that to qualify as a legitimate military genius, an individual must demonstrate the intellect, creativity, and eye have command required to recognize the connections and /or take advantage of, or create the conditions, that are not apparent to others and necessary to achieve a marked advantage in battle or war.

For example, going back, our previous example of Alexander the Great, he demonstrated the intellect, creativity, and eye of command required to recognize that he could make his cavalry the arm of decision in battle or war at a time that was dominated by the infantry. Alexander demonstrated this, and it was not apparent to others and provided him with a marked advantage over his opponents, in that he was undefeated in battle.

In the case of Frederick the Great, he demonstrated the intellect, creativity, and eye of command required to recognize after retraining and reorganized his army, that he could re-introduce the ancient approach, the Oblique Order, into the period of limited war in which he operated, which was not apparent to others and provided him with a marked advantage over his opponents.

Frederick also recognized the opportunities for him to take steps to achieve his objective of unifying the land area of Prussia by gaining control of Silesia, Saxony, and West Prussia, and doing so by using an extraordinary mix of brilliant military actions and skillful diplomacy to make Prussia into one of Europe’s great powers during his reign.

As a military genius, both his implementation of the Oblique Order and his success in unifying the land area of Prussia demonstrate that Frederick was able to maximize the resources he had available to get the most out of them, allowing him and Prussia to accomplish things and achieve a level of greatness few believed possible, and likely that no one else could have done.

Wes O’Donnell: Finally, how does Frederick rate as a great captain?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: the answer to that question usually kind of comes from a combination of looking at him as a leader in battle, a master of the military art, and a military genius. I would say that, using the definition that I offered at the beginning, he certainly qualifies. Frederick the Great was a military genius who demonstrated a mastery of the art of war while leading in battle and war. So he satisfied all three components of our definition.

More specifically, he was a military genius who possessed the eye of command, a superb intellect, and tremendous creativity. As I just discussed, he was a master of the art of war, and he was an effective leader in battle war who demonstrated courage, vision, and morality. Frederick was indeed a great military leader who was the most influential military leader on the battlefield between the time of Marlboro at the beginning of the 18th century and Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. His greatness continues to be recognized up to the present.

Wes O’Donnell: So what would be the relevance then of Frederick for today’s military leaders?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Well, I think he’s an interesting guy because he certainly was a person of his own time, but I think there are three enduring lessons we can take from him. The first is the value of preparation and study. Frederick held his soldiers to an incredibly high standard of discipline, but it was a standard that he matched by his own preparation and study.

The second lesson is the importance of presence and sharing the hardships of your followers with them. Frederick traveled in the advanced guard, he was very present on the battlefield, and yeah he even had maybe six horses shot out from under him, which compares favorably with the seven wounds, at least seven wounds that we know of, that Alexander the Great suffered in battle.

Finally, I think that kind of something organizationally is the importance of knowing your own role, playing your own role, ensuring others do the same, and doing what is necessary to get the most out of an organization. Frederick didn’t go out and try to out drill his Grenadiers or outride his cavalryman, although he was a fine rider himself, or service the artillery guns. He didn’t do any of that; he made sure that his soldiers and his officers could do those things.

Then he could focus on applying his eye of command and doing what he was good at, so that the sum of the whole became far greater than the sum of the parts. That is how he united the territory of Prussia and turned it into one of Europe’s great powers over the course of his reign.

Wes O’Donnell: Well, Kelly, this has been such a great conversation. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Kelly Jordan: Other than Frederick the Great is an interesting way of looking at a great captain, because with Alexander, what we had is an undefeated commander who never lost, and he’s so great that he’s almost hard to believe.

Frederick the Great, I think, is a little bit more approachable in that he had kind of a mediocre battlefield record of eight and eight, and yet still he clearly qualifies as a great military leader, precisely because he’s able to satisfy all of the components of our definition of being a great leader in battle, of being a master of the military art, and of being a military genius.

So I think my final point would be that greatness as the military leader comes in different varieties and different types. It isn’t just all about battlefield victory, sometimes it’s about how you get there and why. I think the contrast between Alexander the Great and Frederick the Great is really helpful in demonstrating this point, Wes.

Wes O’Donnell: Well, again, Kelly, thank you so much for sharing your expertise today for this episode. To our listeners. Thank you for joining us. Be well and stay frosty.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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