Some of you may not yet feel like you’re in combat. Maybe you had a backlog of orders, or you were in a business the government deemed essential, or like some of my clients, you’re in a business that is in hot demand right now, like information technologies.
Some of you may not agree that we are in a war. Complacency is an issue. In the moment, it’s comfortable there on the couch. People are living in denial everywhere, but it doesn’t change hard realities.
Think back to the not so distant past. Remember February 2020? That was just a few months ago. If you’re like me and most of my clients, you had the best year ever in 2019 and you entered 2020 strong and full of confidence. Many of us had our best month EVER in February 2020. Possibly you did too. In any event, I bet you were feeling very optimistic earlier this year.
Then we hit the wall. And everything changed. Now we are in a war. It’s a fight for your business, for the livelihoods of your employees, and for the well-being of the customers you serve. It’s a fight for your home and family…and yes, we are in a war for our country and for the principles on which it was formed.
That does not mean we should panic. It does not mean we should retreat or give up. It does not mean we should even be in a bad mood. We have been in training all our lives for a time like this. Extreme levels of leadership are required of each of us. We are the generals on our own battlefields. In any war, there are two main things for generals to attend to: Defense and Offense. Defense is required because we must be able to withstand the inevitable attacks in order to fight another day.
Your Defensive Strategy. For any situation in which you lead (family, business, church, nonprofit, school), you need a defensive strategy. It’s a bit like the airline instructions: “In the event of loss of air pressure, put on your own oxygen mask first; then you can attend to the needs of others.” So, let’s systematically note each of the defensive elements, specifically for your household and your business for you to consider in building your strategy.
You may or may not have had military training. Regardless, the defensive strategies of military units are worthy of consideration and adaptation for your personal and business situation.
As an ex-Army Ranger Captain, I’m able to bring a unique perspective, now as a business leader, to the topic of personal and business defensive strategies, which can’t be based just on hoping things will turn out alright, any more than that would be a sound military strategy.
Hope is Not a Strategy. The Art of War, written about 7,000 years ago, is perhaps the world’s finest treatise on military operations. It’s author, Sun Tzu wrote: “Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign."
"Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The main elements of a good defense are: intelligence, risk assessment, vigilance, fortification, logistics, reinforcements, a response plan and a fallback plan. Let’s briefly look at each in turn and begin the evaluation of your personal and business situation.
1. Battlefield Intelligence. The word “intelligence” in this context does not refer to degrees of smartness. Military intelligence relates to the battlefield and enemy information collected, upon which leaders can make decisions. The Art of War, puts great emphasis on strategy: “Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” Ask yourself, “What do I need to know protect my household and business?”
2. Risk Assessment. Risk assessment involves four components: Identification, Probability, Magnitude and Response. Ask yourself, “What risks am I facing, and what is my plan to deal with them?”
3. Vigilance (keeping watch). Every good defensive position involves keeping watch for potential enemies and threats. What tools will you use and what systems will you put in place to alert you to potential problems?
4. Fortification (building protective boundaries). Although it’s unlikely you’ll be sandbagging your office and setting claymore mines in the parking lot, you can, and should put protective boundaries and fortifications in place to defend against the things that might harm your family or business. What fortifications do you have?
5. Logistical Support (staying supplied for the battle). There’s an old saying that an army runs on its stomach. Build stockpiles for times of shortage. Establish your sources for the supplies you’ll need to assure you can care for your family and keep your business running, no matter what.
6. Reinforcements (allies to come to your assistance). One of the key considerations in setting up a defensive military position is lining up reinforcements in advance. Where can you get reinforcements and allies to support your household and your business? Who can you reinforce?
7. Response Plan. When attacked, our options are limited. You can Fight, Flee, Freeze, Negotiate, or Surrender. That’s about it. Freezing and Surrendering are the responses of the unprepared. So, when your home or business is threatened, how will you respond?
8. Fall-Back Plan. Sometimes even the strongest position gets overrun. Sometimes even the best prepared team is overpowered. Sometimes you lose. That’s life and war. There may come a time when it happens to you…a time when the forces arrayed against you are simply too strong to withstand. There are many households and businesses in that position right now. Chaotic, terror-filled retreats rarely turn out well. Prepare now. What is your fall-back plan?
Conclusion. Businesses and families are in a season of unprecedented “attack.” The health, economic, social and governmental challenges are serious and unpredictable enough that unless leaders are well prepared, their businesses can be crushed, and their families broken. Don’t be a casualty. Stay alive to fight another day. Take time to think through the eight points above and set sound strategies in place to protect yourself and those you lead and care for.
Michael Sipe is an ex-Army Ranger Captain, black belt martial artist, best selling author, mergers and acquisitions advisor, and executive coach to top CEOs and business owners. Learn more and view the full Defensive Strategies webinar at: