His leadership was by no means confined to the taking of abstract strategic decisions, at which civilian politicians may excel. The avid interest with which he studied the technical aspects of modern warfare, down tot he minute details, shows him to have been anything but a dilettante. He viewed the war primarily from the angle of logistics. To secure reserves of manpower and supplies of weapons, in the right quantities and proportions, to allocate them and to transport them tot he right points at the right time, to amass a decisive strategic reserve and to have it ready for intervention at decisive moments--these operations made up nine-tenths of his task.
In the first phase of the war the army paid a heavy price for, among other things, the loss of self-reliance which its commanding staffs had suffered as a consequence of the purges. The lesson was not, however, wasted on Stalin. He had the sense to give back to his generals their freedom of movement, to encourage them to speak their mind, to embolden them to look for the solution of their problems by way of trial and error, and to relieve them from the fear of the boss's wrath, a fear which weighed so heavily on Hitler's generals.
He punished his officers with draconian severity for lack of courage or vigilance; he demoted them for incompetence, even when the incompetents happened to be Voroshilov and Budienny; and he promoted for initiative and efficiency. Hitler's generals had a shrewder appreciation of Stalin's method than Hitler himself when they said that the top rungs of the Russian ladder of command "were filled by men who had proved themselves so able that they were allowed to exercise their own judgment, and could safely insist on doing things in their own way."
It is nevertheless true that, like Hitler, Stalin took the final decision on every major and many a minor military issue. How then, it may be asked, could the two things be reconciled: Stalin's constant interference with the conduct of the war, and freedom of initiative for his subordinates? The point is that he had a peculiar manner of making his decisions, one which not only did not constrict his generals, but, on the contrary, induced them to use their own judgment.
Hitler usually had his preconceived ideas--sometimes it was a brilliant conception, sometimes a bee in his bonnet--which he tried to force upon a Brauchitsch or a Halder or a Rundstedt. For all his so-called dilettantism, he was a doctrinaire in matters of strategy, impatient with those who could not see the merits of his particular dogma or plan. Not so Stalin. He had no strategic dogmas to impose upon others. He did not approach his generals with operational blue-prints of his own. He indicated to them his general ideas, which were based on an exceptional knowledge of all aspects of the situation, economic, political, and military.
But beyond that he let his generals formulate their views and work out their plans, and on these he based his decisions. His role seems to have been that of the cool, detached, and experienced arbiter of is own generals. In case of a controversy between them, he collected the opinions of those whose opinion mattered, weighed pros and cons, related local viewpoints to general considerations and eventually spoke his mind. His decisions did not therefore strike his generals on the head--they usually sanctioned ideas over which the generals themselves had been brooding. This method of leadership was not novel to Stalin.
Stalin as Warlord