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The Art of Action

Leadership that Closes the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results

Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-857885-59-0

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Quick Overview

Executing strategy is an enduring management problem. There is often a significant gap between what managers plan, what they do and the outcome they achieve. Stephen Bungay finds a fresh approach from an unexpected source – the nineteenth-century Prussian Army. His solution is based not on theory, but on sets of practices that have evolved over many years in the fast-moving, unpredictable environment of the battlefield.

Publication Date: Feb 16, 2011


Executing strategy is an enduring management problem. There is often a significant gap between what managers plan, what they do and the outcomes they achieve. In The Art of Action Stephen Bungay finds a fresh approach and effective solutions from an unexpected source – the nineteenth-century Prussian Army, famous for its agility and grounded in the initiative of its highly empowered junior officers at the operational level of war. He describes how these tactics were subsequently adopted by the British army, and explores in detail how they can be applied in the business arena. Drawing on his experience as a senior manager, business consultant and as one of the UK's best-respected military historians, he offers readers a clear and engaging guide to building better and more effective organisations.
Stephen Bungay is a Director of the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre in London and teaches on several executive programmes at Ashridge Business School. Educated at Oxford and the University of Tåbingen. He worked in the London and Munich offices of Boston Consulting Group for 17 years and also ran a division of an insurance company. He now works as an independent consultant, teacher and speaker. An acclaimed military historian, he has published two books, The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain, and Alamein, and is a frequent contributor to television programmes, appearing on Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC2, BBC4, the History Channel, TV New Zealand and National Geographic.
"Stephen Bungay has something genuinely interesting to tell us. His book is not one of those vacuous essays in "leadership qualities" of the "how would Napoleon/MacArthur/Alexander the Great have turned around General Motors" variety ... What makes this book worth reading is the way in which Mr. Bungay calls time on an entire culture of gobbledygook. You don't succeed in warfare by having vague objectives and issuing ambiguous orders. And you shouldn't expect to succeed in business that way, either."
– Laurence Eyton, Wall Street Journal

“What do you get if you cross a military historian with a management consultant? You get this fascinating book by Stephen Bungay … Bungay is a comfortable with management as he is with history and here cleverly draws on his knowledge of the latter to influence his thinking … A must-read for any would-be strategist.”
Director Magazine

"We live in an age of strategic failure across the board – in international relations and economic affairs, on the battlefield as well as in the marketplace. Inventively and incisively, Stephen Bungay draws on Clausewitz's wisdom, military history, business literature, and common sense to develop the notion of ‘directed opportunism’ for breaking the ominous cycle of frustration."
– Jonathan Stevenson, Professor of Strategic Studies, U.S. Naval War College

"Leadership is an intangible value. What sets Stephen Bungay apart is that he draws upon his deep knowledge of historical military campaigns to highlight key leadership principles and then sets them in the context of modern business with an understanding of the particular challenges faced by each company he works for. The first part greatly entertains and captivates the audience and the second part really brings home the teachings we wish to impart. The results have been very good."
– Tom Glocer, CEO, Thomson Reuters

"The Art of Action is a must for anyone in business who takes their leadership responsibilities seriously. Stephen Bungay draws upon his deep understanding of business strategy and military history and describes principles in his book that will have a real impact for those who adopt them. The Art of Action is the strategic handbook for today built on the insights of yesterday. This will be compulsory reading for all of my unit heads."
– liot Forster, CEO, Solace Pharmaceuticals

"All too often, strategies fail to be implemented because they do not make tough choices between priorities and therefore leave people confused. The eminently pragmatic techniques described in this book are a great way of sharpening up the thinking, the communication and the sense of accountability needed to get an organisation moving. The ideas sound simple, but they are very powerful."
– Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

"Stephen Bungay’s career as CEO, management consultant and historian enable him to bring a unique clarity to leadership and the art of making strategy happen. His study of the chastened Prussian military machine analysing why it was defeated by Napoleon’s peasant army is illuminated with anecdotes from his career in business. It is this blend of evidence from the military to the business environment which makes this book so useful to the modern day practitioner!"
– David Roblin, Senior Vice President, Pfizer Global R&D

"This is not just another book about strategy. The Art of Action does not only present a radical, counter-cultural solution to the impasse business is facing today but it is grounded in real strategic execution in a fascinating organisation. It is theRe-engineering The Corporation of the 21st century. I intend to send a copy to all my clients."
– Aidan Walsh, Partner, Ernst & Young