[July 10, 2018] On occasion here at my leadership blog, I ask the proverbial question, Why should leaders seek wisdom? The purpose of the question is to strike at the heart of a mystery that has tugged at humankind since the beginning. Leaders seek wisdom so that they can know the problem and fix it when called upon.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese general
Sun Tzu was telling us that in order to be a great leader, one must know yourself (your people, resources, and constraints) and know the enemy (the problem, mission, or task). By knowing BOTH of these a leader can be assured of success in any endeavor of their choosing.
To solve a problem, one must know the problem. To complete a mission, one must understand the mission. To complete a task, one must know what the task is about. But as important as this is, in all human endeavors one must also know themselves.
I just finished reading a book by John C. McManus called The Americans at Normandy. It tells us in detail how the many units of the U.S. military attacked the shores of Normandy, France in June 1944. The battles were brutal; the lives lost and destroyed enormous but it had to be done to rid the world of an evil. In the book, McManus explains the planning and execution of Operation Overlord beginning with the attack on beaches and ending with the trapping of the German armies in the Falaise Pocket.
Of course, it is impossible to have perfect knowledge of yourself and your enemy (or problem) but any failure to make maximum use of time to discover it what intellectual excellence is about. And the biggest problem leaders have is having full knowledge of themselves, their resources, and capabilities. This is a common failure point in the experiences of most leaders.
U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower understood both the enemy and the military under his command. He knew the pitfalls and what it would take in lives and equipment for success to be assured. Although he had his doubts and although his timetable was never achieved, the operation was successful and it began an Allied drive that destroyed Nazi Germany.
Leadership is achieved through great efforts. The beginning of the process means to know the problem.