Leaders Connect the Dots

By | January 31, 2019

[January 31, 2019]  After watching a video of an army armored Task Force get “destroyed” during wargames at Fort Irwin National Training Center (NTC), I promised my soldiers that would not happen to them.  It became evident during the briefing that a previous unit’s Commander had failed to connect the dots from the bits of Intelligence on the OPFOR enemy’s location.1

We call this Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) and whoa to any commander who ignores critical information.  I was nervous.  The OPFOR, the 177th U.S. Armored Brigade, wore Soviet-style uniforms (with black berets) and used the M551 Sheridan tanks modified to resemble Soviet armored vehicles.  They were prepared, had the advantage of knowing the ground and our tactics, and were well lead by a seasoned commander.

One of the more hard-earned traits of a leader is their capacity to pull everything together to create a well-oiled organizational machine.  This requires quick thinking, guts, and experience to make it work.  A good friend of mine, a senior Intelligence Officer, told me that a good commander is one who can look at a half-finished jigsaw puzzle and correctly describe the picture.

A good leader is able to mesh resources, people, culture, systems, and mission.  They work hard to bolster effectiveness and enhance overall performance by quickly filling gaps in the organization’s capability.  This is very easy to write about but it can be extremely difficult to do.  That is why relevant experience is imperative; without it, a leader will fail.

What appears to the untrained eye to be a fragmented mess or purposeless happenings, can become something clear to the right leader.  This is why I often write that leadership is difficult.  It is the responsibility of the leader to connect the dots.  Others can help but the leader must be able to visualize the battlefield.

Our turn at defeating the OPFOR came on a bright sunny morning in the Spring of 1999.  The weather was perfect.  My soldiers were prepared and ready.  Reconnaissance units were out ahead of us as our “attack” began.

Three long hours later I was in the debriefing trailer watching how my unit had been knocked off the preplanned attack route.  We failed our mission.  The only consolidation was that other units like ours lasted less than 30 minutes.  It took the OPFOR longer and with unexpected “heavy casualties” to defeat us.  Big deal, I thought we lost.  But I was able to picture what was happening and our defeat proved that we could at least connect the dots.


  1. OPFOR: an acronym for Opposing Forces in military usage.
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.

21 thoughts on “Leaders Connect the Dots

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    “Connect the dots” , we must remember, is an American idiomatic expression. We should be careful using it.

    1. Mr. T.J. Asper

      The phrase “connect the dots,” is a sarcastic way of suggesting to someone that if he/she considers various pieces of evidence related to a given subject, and then mentally considers them in the aggregate, then that person can see the obvious truth about the matter under discussion or consideration.

    2. Bryan Lee

      Good point. I use the jigsaw puzzle analogy instead. Good leaders are able to ‘see’ the picture from an incomplete puzzle. The better the leader, the better they are able to ‘see’ with fewer pieces of the puzzle.

    3. Kenny Foster

      Just what I was going to write. You beat me to it Mr. TJ. Thank you.

  2. Eric Coda

    Another excellent leadership article. Keep them coming our way.

  3. Scotty Bush

    From the Free Dictionary:
    “Connect the dots”
    To draw logical inferences connecting items of information to reveal something previously hidden or unknown.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Another way to say it is that “connect the dots” means to understand something by piecing together hints or other bits of information.

  4. The Kid 1945

    Leadership is about getting the mission completed (get ‘er done!) and taking care of your people. Gen. Satterfield has this theme running throughout his leadership blog. The one thing that is common in all leaders who are successful are those who can ‘connect the dots.’

    1. Gil Johnson

      Good points “the kid 1945”. You are spot on with your comment.

  5. Dale Paul Fox

    There is nothing like a good read first thing in the morning while my coffee is brewing on the stove and my dog is sitting at my feet. On a more serious note, this is an important issues, especially at the more senior levels of leadership. We saw a great failure and greater disaster occur in the USA when Muslim hijackers flew plans into the twin towers in NY and into the Pentagon. Leaders must be able to connect the dots or tragedy will come.

  6. Lynn Pitts

    I too have been to the NTC and trained with other mililtary units across the US. It was tough. I mean really tough. But when you can actually ‘see’ the effort on the training battlefield, it means a lot to those who are there. Leaders at ALL LEVELS must be able to ‘connect the dots’ so they can both survive and complete their missions. Well done!

  7. Shawn C. Stolarz

    “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
    Steve Jobs

    1. Dennis Mathes

      I like this quote too. And, I’d forgotten that Steve Jobs said it.

    2. Lady Hawk

      Yes, I remember him saying this in a speech a number of years ago.

  8. Army Captain

    Very interesting. Thanks. I completely agree with you on this. I’ve met many so-called leaders who cannot connect the dots. They might be nice people but they will never be good leaders.

    1. Georgie M.

      Yes, excellent point, Thank you for a military perspective on this issue, Army Captain.

    2. Doug Smith

      I always go to your comment first because I want to see someone with a military background confirm what is written here.

    3. Wilson Cox

      Your point that some leaders don’t have the ability is insightful but also unfortunately that is so true.

Comments are closed.