Know Your Limits

By | April 18, 2019

[April 18, 2019] While leaders are good at pushing the limits of their ability, they are also fully aware of their own boundaries. History is full of stories where people and nations have gone beyond the point where success is no longer possible. That is why it is a rare quality to truly know your limits.

The Korean War of 1950-53 is a classic example of a nation not knowing its limitations. Time and again, Communist North Korean offensive operations, which were always successful due to tactical surprise, slowed and halted because they had outrun logistical capabilities.

North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or DPRK, 조선인민공화국), began the war with a highly successful attack on June 25, 1950. South Korean and limited U.S. forces were thrown back repeatedly as DPRK armies outgunned and outmanned smaller Allied forces.

As soon as DPRK forces slowed due to a lack of ammunition, food, water, and equipment, the Allied forces would fight them to a standstill and throw them back. This back and forth, seesaw-like action continued for many months. Comparable to World War I, logistics played a significant role in the success or victory of battlefield action.1

A similar scenario marked the high-watermark of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Recently ISIS lost all of its territories and had nearly all of its fighters either killed or captured. While it took many years, the lesson gained was not lost on it or those forces fighting it.

The Korean War consumed about 3 million lives; for reference about 10 million were killed during World War I.2 Large numbers of civilians died in the Korean War; starvation and disease is a major factor. The DPRK should not have attacked South Korea. This is why it is imperative, as leaders, to know your limits.


  1. Once United Nation forces and an improved logistics capability began to arrive in South Korea, the DPRK knew the game was up. Their gamble to quickly overwhelm the south was slowly slipping away. Additionally, U.S. General Douglas MacAurther made it known that he planned to crush all of the DPRK (a close ally of China and the USSR). When U.N. forces began to gain significant territory in the north, beyond the original dividing line between North and South Korea, China sent its armies against the Allies. Chinese forces, while superior to DPRK forces, had the same logistical problems. Neither of these Communist forces had the experience to carry out complex, long-haul logistical operations.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Know Your Limits

  1. Willie Shrumburger

    Another good article this morning. Thank you Gen Satterfield.

  2. Greg Heyman

    A person’s capacity to manage a lot of tasks and activities is shaped by genetics and early experience, says Amit Sood, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn. Some people inherit a tendency to be more reactive to stress and overload. So, everyone, pay attention to what your body is telling you.

  3. José Luis Rodriguez

    Do YOU know your limits?
    I would suggest that most of us do not. That is why there is a tongue-in-cheek award called the Darwin Award that is given to those that kill themselves while pushing their limits.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Unfortunately, most people don’t know when they have reached their limits and need to stop saying yes to new activities.

  4. Roger Yellowmule

    When I was a kid, I did everything I could for fun. Jumped over boxes, threw knives and firecrackers, etc. After 3 broken arms, a fractured shin bone, and multiple scratches and cuts (some requiring more than 10 stitches), I learned my limits but … I still tried to exceed them.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Thanks for sharing your story, Roger. That’s why I keep coming back here. It is amazing how much you can learn from the website of Gen. Satterfield but also from others like you.

  5. Watson Bell

    Knowing your limits doesn’t mean being demotivated. For example, if you dont know that you cannot fight a professional wrestler you may probably paying hospital bills. Infact really knowing your limits means being wise enough to know the reality and acting accordingly. On the positive note if you find out your real abilty, no one could stop you from being sucessful in that field.

    1. JT Patterson

      Good point, Watson. I think we need to know our limits so we can gradually stretch them.

  6. Doug Smith

    Those folks that believe there are no limits to human abilities have obviously encountered automatic weapons on the battlefield. Oh, someone already said something like this! Ha. But the lesson is still a good one.

    1. The Kid 1945

      Yes. Be optimistic with pushing little limits and pessimistic with things that might kill you or that aren’t important to your key goals.

  7. Eva Easterbrook

    It’s not always easy to recognize our limits until we go beyond them.

  8. Darryl Sitterly

    There are many different times when we are pushed to our limits. While we can learn a lot from being outside our comfort zone, it also can be dangerous when dealing with these situations in life. It is important to have enough self-awareness to know when enough is enough.

  9. Army Captain

    Much has been written on this very subject and pounded into us as young officers in the US Army.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Always good to see you here. Thanks for your service.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      I was thinking the same thing. Studying the Korean War provides us with a good foundation for improving our leadership skills.

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