Here’s the next installment in my “Military Leadership Series” … lessons learned through my experience as a military officer that apply to everyday leadership situations.
In armored warfare, tanks are supported by an extensive array of support vehicles, from combat engineers to ammunition resupply to fuel trucks. One of the limitations of an armored tank column is that it must be linked to this support structure: if it advances faster than its support, than it will usually be left a sitting duck, out of gas, out of ammunition, or unable to pass an obstacle.
Like the tank, our dreams and visions must not outrun our “logistics tail”… we have to be careful that there is support in place so that our dreams have the underpinning and foundations to endure and continue advancing the front line.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was Germany’s feared and respected tank general in World War II. A consummate “soldier’s soldier” who was famed for leading from the front and pushing his Divisions forward the fastest. His Blitzkrieg strategy of swift and concentrated armoured warfare quickly overran Poland and then swept through the Benelux. But the problem of Blitzkrieg was staying tied its logistics tail. Hitler had to continuously hold back Rommel and the other Panzer commanders… in hopes that the attacks wouldn’t be cut off by French and British flanking attacks.
The Problem of Northern Africa
The campaign in Northern Africa showed the chink in Blitzkrieg… while Rommel could fight and push across the desert, the faster and further he swept, the more thinly he stretched his fuel and ammunition resupply lines. No matter his skill in strategy and tactical warfare, he had to stay connected to support columns and support bases.
What Can This Teach Us As Leaders and Pioneers?
1. Don’t Outrun Your Support Structure
I am surrounded daily with visionaries and dreamers, and it’s my job to help provide the foundations and practical realities. In fact, I encourage them to dream and to make goals that are sometimes seemingly impossible, because I believe in them and the inherent power of their (and your!) God-given callings and talents.
But in contrast to this, dreams and visions will die if left unsupported. So many times I’ve heard stories of people who took a risk, but the story ends with “…but that didn’t work out, so they came back home…” Why? Why is this? Many times, it’s because their initial dream crumbled in the face of reality.
Too much dreaming, not enough “beans and bullets.”
2. Take The Risk, Then Let Your Support Catch Up
I’m not saying stop dreaming, or stop taking risks. In fact, I am a huge advocate of stepping out in faith and pioneering into the unknown. But if you neglect the practicalities, if you aren’t prepared, then you are simply being foolish. Critical to this dreaming is an element of planning. Do this by creating your plan of action, your “CONcept of OPerations”–so that those who are following you can continue the work you’ve started. Even if your CONOP is created a year after inititating your project or team, it still allows for a foundation to build upon.
As leaders and pioneers, we must take risks. But once those risks are taken, we have to establish a base and to solidify the gains we’ve made.
3. Go From Base to Base, Strength to Strength
Don’t Stop. Build on what you have until it’s firm, and strong enough to withstand attacks and attrition… then get moving again. If we simply stop our advance, then our teams, ministries, or projects get stagnant.
Develop the CONOPs, give it away, and then take the risk again. Take it to the enemy. Be audacious, then be smart. Then do it all again.
4. Record Your Lessons Learned For Others to Build On
I would love to hear your stories, either lessons learned from times your dream has been “outflanked,” or situations when you took the risk first, but then allowed your support structure to be developed before you moved on again. Now it’s your turn…
For a great historic account of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, try ROMMEL AS A MILITARY COMMANDER
by Ronald Lewin.
For a great historical fiction read about the Northern African campaign, check out Stephen Pressfield’s Killing Rommel: A Novel (affliate links)