Write me a victory

Wellington.jpg

On this day in 1809 Arthur Wellesley became the Viscount Wellington.  This was a man who knew a thing or two about PR in the days before PR was invented.

Born Arthur Wesley in Dublin he was a member of the Protestant ascendancy.  He did not want to be held back by his Irish roots and is  supposed to have said “Because Jesus was born in a stable did not make him a horse.”

He changed the spelling of his name to Wellesley when he was serving in India in a move to brand himself as distinct from his older brother, Richard, Lord Mornington, Governor General of India.

July 28th 1809 was when Wellesley won the Battle of Talavera against the French during the peninsular campaign.  Up to this point he was looked down upon by the military establishment.  He was seen by some of his contemporaries as a “Sepoy” general, a lower class of leader than those who fought in European wars.  He had gained his seniority mainly through the purchase of commissions, which was standard practice at the time.  The British Empire was stabilised by a system where the sons of the nobility and the ruling classes dominated the military through purchase of position.  This prevented the rise of populist demagogues, such as Napoleon.

Wellesley saw some action in Germany and Denmark, but it was in the Peninsular campaign that he was destined to shine.  He defeated every French field marshal in succession before eventually defeating Napoleon himself in Waterloo.

Talavera was his first real test in Iberia.  Despite losing 25% of his troops, and retreating from Spain for a year, Wellesley sold it to London as a victory.  As a result he was ennobled and was known henceforth as Lord Wellington, first as Viscount and later Duke.

Wellington was a quick study.   At Talavera he learned that the Spaniards did not have the resources or matériel to support the British forces in Spain.  While the French and Spanish armies had the ability to live off the land his troops could not.  He could not risk dispersing his men to forage, and having them picked off piecemeal by superior French forces.  He retreated from Spain with a tactical victory which served his interests in London, but giving the strategic victory to the French.  He would not return to Spain until he could guarantee secure supplies for his forces.

At Talavera he also practiced a technique that later made him famous at Waterloo.  He ordered brigades of foot soldiers to lie down on the reverse slopes of elevated positions.  This kept them safe from artillery fire which was designed to clear a path for the French columns.  Once the columns began to march the troops were ordered up and into the “thin red line”.

What I find most interesting about Talavera is that the winning side on the day, the combined British and Spanish forces, lost more troops than the French.  This is often the way in battle.  It is the army that is prepared to take the hard hits that wins the day.  In most battles the losing side withdraws in good order, defeated but not routed.  It is only when the losing side loses formation and collapses that they suffer large losses.  When the fear takes hold, when the common soldiers realise they have lost, and it becomes every man for himself.  The lines break up and the victorious cavalry go to town on retreating infantry.  In battle, in sport and in business it is the ability to weather defeat, to avoid a complete rout, that marks out a side with character.  That is a team with the ability to come back and win the next time.

The Spanish Ulcer

Cadíz

Cádiz is the oldest city in Spain.  It was founded by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir, or Agadir, which was their name for an enclosure, or port.

The Romans called it Gades.  Later came the Arabs who called it Qádiz.  Most English speakers pronounce it incorrectly.  The accent is on the first syllable.

On this day, Feb 5th, 1810, Cádiz became the last chance saloon for the Spanish Cortes.  The government fled from Madrid ahead of the advancing Napoleonic armies.  They holed up in the last Spanish city, and held out for two years of siege.

Marshalls Victor and Soult failed to break the Spaniards.  The British and the Spanish mounted a number of daring counter attacks to relieve the siege.  The most famous was the Battle of Barrosa, where Patrick Masterson of the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers captured an Imperial Eagle from the French, the first ever won by British forces.

But it was the actions of another Irish born soldier, Lord Wellington, that eventually relieved Cádiz.  The battle of Salamanca threatened to cut off the French and they were forced to retreat and regroup.

The war in Spain became known as the “Spanish Ulcer”.  It was the open sore that bled France and weakened her.  Spain was Napoleons Vietnam.  Army after army was sent to Spain.  Some died on the battlefield in the big war, la Guerra.  But more died in the little war, la guerrilla, a word invented by the Peninsular war.

Sometimes the lowest point, the last gasp, becomes the foundation for new growth.  From the ashes of disaster the Cortes sowed the seeds of eventual success.

 

The Girl of Cádiz; by Lord Byron

O, NEVER talk again to me
Of northern climes and British ladies;
It has not been your lot to see,
Like me, the lovely Girl of Cadiz.
Although her eyes be not of blue,
Nor fair her locks, like English lassies,
How far its own expressive hue
The languid azure eye surpasses!

Prometheus-like, from heaven she stole
The fire that through those silken lashes
In darkest glances seems to roll,
From eyes that cannot hide their flashes;
And as along her bosom steal
In lengthened flow her raven tresses,
You ’d swear each clustering lock could feel,
And curled to give her neck caresses.

Our English maids are long to woo,
And frigid even in possession;
And if their charms be fair to view,
Their lips are slow at love’s confession;
But, born beneath a brighter sun,
For love ordained the Spanish maid is,
And who, when fondly, fairly won,
Enchants you like the Girl of Cadiz?

The Spanish maid is no coquette,
Nor joys to see a lover tremble;
And if she love or if she hate,
Alike she knows not to dissemble.
Her heart can ne’er be bought or sold,
Howe’er it beats, it beats sincerely;
And, though it will not bend to gold,
’T will love you long, and love you dearly.

The Spanish girl that meets your love
Ne’er taunts you with a mock denial;
For every thought is bent to prove
Her passion in the hour of trial.
When thronging foemen menace Spain
She dares the deed and shares the danger;
And should her lover press the plain,
She hurls the spear, her love’s avenger.

And when, beneath the evening star,
She mingles in the gay Bolero,
Or sings to her attuned guitar
Of Christian knight or Moorish hero,
Or counts her beads with fairy hand
Beneath the twinkling rays of Hesper,
Or joins devotion’s choral band
To chant the sweet and hallowed vesper,

In each her charms the heart must move
Of all who venture to behold her.
Then let not maids less fair reprove,
Because her bosom is not colder;
Through many a clime ’t is mine to roam
Where many a soft and melting maid is,
But none abroad, and few at home,
May match the dark-eyed Girl of Cadiz.

 

Leipzig

Leipzig

Growing up in Ireland makes us part of a world that has traditionally been dominated by England.  Much of our understanding of history is influenced by the English weltanschauung.  

A clear incidence of this influence is the celebration of the importance of Battle of Waterloo in the defeat of Napoleon and the studious neglect of the Battle of Leipzig.  Waterloo was fought by the Seventh coalition, led by an Englishman, the Duke of Wellington.  Leipzig was the victory of the Sixth coalition, led by the Russians under Alexander.

In truth the battle of Leipzig was a far more important engagement.  The coalition fought Napoleon at the height of his power and he was roundly defeated for the first time on the battlefield.  Bonaparte lost the battle, but also lost his reputation for invincibility.  He left the legend of his military genius on the field of Leipzig.

The battle was the greatest fought on European soil until the Great War.  Casualties numbered in excess of 100,000 (higher than Borodino, but spread over 4 days) .  By comparison Waterloo, with 60,000 casualties was a sideshow, a last gasp by an already defeated and spent force.

Ranged against Napoleon where the forces of Sweden, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg.  In particular it was seen as a great victory for the Germans in the Alliance.  The painting above is entitled “Declaration of Allied Victory after the Battle of Leipzig, 19th October, 1813”, painted by Johann Peter Krafft in 1839.  This painting is a classic piece of propaganda.  It was repainted at least 6 times, re-arranging the prominence of the allied leaders to suit particular commissions.

If only the British played some small part in the sixth coalition then the painting could have been repainted a seventh time.  We could have seen the British Commander take pride of place at the center of European events.  Then we would know all about the Battle of Leipzig.  Instead when we hear about European wars we hear of Blenheim and Waterloo.

The great commander of the day, the General who marched in only one direction, Forwards, was Blucher.  He triumphed at both Leipzig and Waterloo!  He even has a pair of shoes named after him, and his design became the template for all modern mens shoes.

Song of the Grenadiers:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Those heroes of antiquity ne’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies’ ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, “Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Leadership material

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Leader or manager, general or colonel? What is the difference and why does it matter? In war or in competitive business we face a twin dilemma.

Let’s focus on wars, simply because they have a better documented history. Throughout history the (seemingly) simple act of getting your army to a battlefield, wearing clothes, in a state of health, well fed, well shod, well-armed and well-ordered has often delivered victory. This is the job of the staff officers of the army, the managers. They must recruit, train, equip, feed, transport and manage the soldiers.

In the same way company managers must recruit, remunerate, monitor and direct the staff or the organisation to deliver a workload. They must ensure the correct tools are available to do the job, the right computers, the right lathes, the right cleaning fluids etc.

Where things get interesting is where you have two armies, or two organisations, that are well managed, so that both of them arrive on the ‘battlefield’ in good order.

This is where the need for good leadership cuts in. The good leader is creative, surprising, unexpected, not a plodder, not predictable and pedantic. The Duke of Wellington defeated every French Marshal thrown against him. At last he met Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, and Wellesley described him as “just another plodder”. What he did not realise is that Napoleon was ill and the battle was mismanaged by Marshal Ney. Napoleon was in fact a brilliant general, and on his day Waterloo would have been a very different battle.

If a “leader” becomes too operational, too involved in the day to day running of the business, then they are probably just interfering in the work of their managers. The leader needs to be assured that the management is happening, but should not be too involved in it. The leader needs to be aware of the capabilities of the organisation, so that when they craft their strategic masterstroke it is within the reach of the staff. So reports from managers to the leader should keep the leader up to date on what is possible.

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion is attributed to a reporting failure within the CIA. Local operatives were telling Langley that the Cuban exiles were motivated and committed soldiers, well trained and gunning to win their country back from the Communists. In fact they were a drunken, feckless rabble who were unfit to participate in any military action. Had Kennedy been aware of this he could have avoided a huge embarrassment for the USA, and potentially have avoided the Cuban Missile Crisis altogether.

The leader can challenge the managers to build capabilities in weak areas, tell them “what” he wants, but should refrain from telling them how to do it. Good examples are of Churchill in the Second World War. He challenged the army to develop special forces groups so that he could take the war to the Axis. The army developed commando units, paratroopers, long range desert squadrons, SAS etc. These specialist “tools” were then available to factor in to strategic plans. The Rhine bridges campaign (Operation Market Garden) depended heavily on paratroopers holding the bridge and Arnhem. They did the job for three days longer than they were asked, and the failure of the campaign was down to other factors.

In a business context, what are your special forces? What are the tools in the market that can give you a strategic advantage over your competition? Where is your source of competitive advantage and how are you factoring this into your strategic planning?

Some writers point to a personality difference between a leader and a manger. Many great leaders are very uncomfortable in management positions. They play a poor second fiddle to another leader.

Dr. Brian Leavy in DCU humorously used Star Trek to describe the difference in one of his strategy papers. Captain Kirk is the brilliant leader of the Starship Enterprise. He is a flawed human, at times emotional and petty, jealous of others, physically violent when things don’t go his way, he comes across like a spoilt child. But he constantly thinks outside the box and finds solutions where none seemed to exist. When he was faced with a no-win game scenario at Starfleet academy he refused to be beaten and instead reprogrammed the game so that he could win. He is a motivational leader who inspires great effort and loyalty from his team. His passion and drive are attractive to the opposite sex too, as he always seems to get the girl (or the prettiest alien species).

By contrast Mr Spock is a paragon of self-control and emotional discipline. He is logical, correct and brilliant. He is the perfect foil for the mercurial leader, as he keeps everything on an even keel. But he is cold and passionless and does not inspire those around him. If anything his perfection is demotivating to others who know they can never gain his approval. For Spock perfection is simply adequate, anything less is unacceptable. This makes him a poor leader in the eyes of humans.

The analogy often seems to hold true. Famous leaders do appear to be mercurial characters, Lord Alan Sugar, Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Churchill, Bill Gates, Howard Hughes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael O’Leary. But how much of this is the visibility of leaders who are mercurial? There are many great leaders who shy away from public attention. Terry Leahy, Paul Polman, Robert McDonald, Rex Tillerson, Peter Voser, Peter Swinbburn, all very influential people, how many can you place?

IF: by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!