We usually think of militaries as rigid. But the best militaries operate with a fair bit of flexibility.
Churchill once remarked that the Wehrmacht was very efficient and effective in planning and executing plans, but when those plans would falter, they would fall into panic and paralysis. On the other hand, he said, the Americans are creative. Cut off their water and they find a new source. Throw them into frigid weather and they improvise winter clothes. Surprise them, and they adapt.
The Ukrainian army is a present-day example of the power of adaptability, creativity, and resilience. And the Ukraine war, one of the latest examples of the weaknesses of rigid leadership.
Ukraine on the other hand is more decentralized, agile, and motivated. Zelensky is leading from the front, communicating transparently and frequently, conveying hope, and portraying, through visible and undeniable action, personal bravery.
The Ukrainian army embodies General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s sentiment that “what counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” And part of that fight comes from the ability to pivot creatively and consistently show up in the face of uncertainty.
As Bruce Lee guided, “Be water, my friend. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup…You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
This advice applies not only to martial arts or military maneuvers but to management and leadership too.
Everything is improv. The “what” and “how” are always shifting, hence the importance of conveying the “why.”
If the why is clear, teams of any kind (military or otherwise) can adapt to changing circumstances, achieving the intended outcome in surprising ways.
To the incredible men and women who do this every day and courageously serve our country and others around the globe, thank you.