Strategic Lessons from Great Minds (Part 3)

By | April 3, 2020

[April 3, 2020]  Someone once said that as long as you have to think, think big.  To see the ‘big picture’ or put another way to ‘have a vision’ is the epitome of great leadership.  We can think of strategy as combining both the vision and the way we accomplish it.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, said that “… we’re not in the coffee business serving people; we’re in the people business servicing coffee.”  Schultz understood the difference between tactics (serving coffee) and strategy (people business).  While this may be an oversimplification, it nonetheless tells us what makes a difference in real leadership; those that can bring people together for a clear mission, provide the way and resources to get ‘er done.

I began this three-part series a few days ago (the others are here, link and link).  Numbers one through six can be found in those articles.  Here are more in no particular order:

  1. Keep Your Strategy Secret. Sun Tzu wrote that while “All men see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”  In any competitive enterprise, the ability to communicate your vision is crucial, but as important, is to keep your competitors from seeing your strategy. Indeed, this balancing act carries a risk to any leader.  Success means to do artfully keep your strategy secret.
  2. Pick Your Ground and Your Battles. In 1942, U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific.  He wasted no time in devising the island-hopping strategy (aka Leapfrogging Strategy), where military ground forces took the fight directly to the Japanese Army.  Like MacArthur, great leaders are proactive and pick the time and place of battle.  They do not react to the other guy.
  3. Use the Indirect Approach. First written about by historian B.H. Liddell Hart, this strategy was an attempt to reduce high casualty rates during the World War I head-to-head battles.  The direct approach often leads you into the enemy’s strongest positions.  Thus, a more indirect way will likely disrupt the enemy’s equilibrium and allow the attacker to circumvent strength to attack weakness, thus ensuring a better chance to be victorious.
  4. See Things as They Are. One of the biggest problems we face in any competition is to see the world without bias.  To see things as they are, takes great effort, clarity of mind, absolute objectivity, and focus.  This ‘seeing’ means the rejection of ideology and emotions in our decision-making process.  To reject overconfidence also plays a part as we can be distracted by our past.  S. Army General George S. Patton told his men before the Battle of the Bulge that “there is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear.”

Virgil, an Ancient Roman Poet, asked a perennial question, “whether the enemy was defeated by strategy or valor?”  The answer is, of course, by strategy.

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.

22 thoughts on “Strategic Lessons from Great Minds (Part 3)

  1. The Kid 1945

    Pick your ground on which to fight and pick your battles. Great advice.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      👍 My favorite too. This is the crux of leadership, IMHO. We don’t have unlimited resources (time, money, people, supplies) so we must prioritize but only if we have the vision of what we want.

  2. Len Jakosky

    Loved your series on strategic lessons. If you could, Gen. Satterfield, please consider a future article on the difference in Tactics, Operations, and Strategies. Thank you for consideration.

    1. Jerome Smith

      A new series on this would be very educational. Leadership, as we all know, is difficult but leadership is something that will never disappear. Some may disagree but just look at how good (and how bad) some of our politicians are in this China virus pandemic.

  3. Shawn C. Stolarz

    I have also been to several seminars on “strategy” and came away empty on real answers to my questions. I learn more about strategy here in Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog than all of them combined. I found that most of the instructors have NEVER had any practical or relevant experience in developing strategy, they just read about it. Like the university professors who purport to know what they teach, there is nothing real behind that curtain (ha ha).

  4. Eric Coda

    For those that didn’t catch the reference to ancient Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu, a good website to go to in order to learn more about him is here. “Sun Tzu’s the Art of War.”
    Gives quotes but also an explanation.

    1. Georgie B.

      “Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. ”
      — one of the greatest quotes of Sun Tzu but less well known.

  5. Willie Shrumburger

    I’m a reader of General George S Patton’s life and deeds. I see him mentioned in this series on strategic lessons and as it should be. Bc he was such a great military soldier and leader, he has made us more aware of the psychology of good men and bad men. He understood EVIL and was willing to destroy it.

    1. Mark Evans

      And my favorite is Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He was also a great man that was denigrated in the US media at the time. That has colored out view of him but there is one thing both Patton and MacArthur have in common ….. they were both strategic thinkers. So many generals today are just big on tactics.

    2. Fred Weber

      Patton: A Genius of War was outstanding. Very detailed and comprehensive book. This biography presents not only the events in his life, but also the people around him, his personality, and his thought process behind every major decision. I feel like I know the man after reading this biography. Highly recommended.

  6. Dennis Mathes

    Gen. Satterfield. thanks for this series. Very eye opening.

  7. Nick Lighthouse

    General Satterfield, the end of another wonderfully entertaining and educational series. I’ve put this one down in my leadership logbook, one that I re-read on weekends for motivation.

    1. JT Patterson

      Thanks Nick for saying what most of us are thinking.

    2. Dead Pool Guy

      Spot-on comment and my thinking too. This whole series has been very informative. I passed these three along to many of my friends (those that matter anyway). Got a lot of great feedback.

  8. Doug Smith

    Great conclusion to your 3 part series. My favorite of all you listed was by Sun Tzu, ‘know theyself’. If you don’t know yourself, you cannot even know your enemy. Just my way of thinking. Too many kids today think wrongly of themselves because they’ve been told they are great. But, frankly, they are not.

    1. Army Captain

      And when these ‘kids’ join the US military, it takes us at least a year and sometimes much longer to straighten them out. This takes time and resources that are in short supply.

      1. Lynn Pitts

        Yes, and something I’ve been telling my friends for years now. Even saw a few junior NCOs who are not with the program yet. I fault the lower level leadership at the officer and sergeant positions for this. They simply let them get away with things that should not happen.

      2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

        Don’t forget that it’s not just the military. The irresponsible generation is having a negative impact everywhere.

    2. Mikka Solarno

      I agree on the great conclusion and some of my favorites are here.

      1. the ace

        Same for me, Mikka. I love this website and keep coming back. I’m kinda new here but love to also read the many comments in this forum. Thanks all.

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