“Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking.”[i]
During World War I, in 1914, Field Marshal Foch was selected to command France’s newly formed Ninth Army during the First Battle of the Marne. Only a week after taking command, with the whole French Army in full retreat, he was forced to fight a series of defensive actions to prevent a German breakthrough. Foch pushed the Germans back across the Marne, and on 12 September he regained the Marne at Châlons, liberated the city. His counter-attack was an implementation of the theories he had developed during his staff college days, and it succeeded in stopping the German advance. Field Marshal Foch is said to have declared the words quoted above during the advance at the marshes in St.-Gond. These words were seen as a symbol both of Foch’s leadership and of French determination to resist the invader at any cost.
Throughout our life, we face many challenges that we never envisioned we would have to face. At times, they come as a complete surprise. Our education and experience do not always prepare us for these encounters, although it would be convenient and helpful. You can never be prepared for every situation and circumstance. But, life experiences provides us building blocks to develop many of the core values and qualities that lead to success that are necessary to function, grow and survive. These experiences influence our behavior, attributes and personality, as well as the actions we take and the decisions we make. From this, we are able to act courageously, and with confidence, when we are consumed by overwhelming circumstances that seem insurmountable.
Field Marshal Foch faced such a situation during World War One at the first Battle of the Marne. He was not deterred, nor did he back down. He was never intimidated, and he took appropriate and courageous action. His words seem almost blithe in the face of danger and uncertainty. He wasn’t trying to defy the reality of the situation, nor was he trying to deceive his superiors about the complexities, dangers and realities on the ground. He was merely expressing confidence that his Ninth Army were capable to adapt to the unfavorable conditions, against all odds. He knew the strength of his soldiers, and he had faith in them. He knew that they were capable of accomplishing the objective; pushing the Germans back across the Marne. He knew he had to take certain risks, and he was driven and determined to achieve victory.
Ferdinand Foch knew what kind of person it would take to size up a situation and make a decision. He knew that indecisiveness is a weakness. He knew that it would take a leader who is unwavering, determined and courageous. From his book, Precepts and Judgments, Foch wrote the following:
When the moment arrives for taking decisions, facing responsibilities, entering upon sacrifices — decisions which ought to be taken before they are imposed, responsibilities which ought to be welcomed, for the initiative must be secured and the offensive launched — where should we find a man equal to these uncertain and dangerous tasks were it not among men of a superior stamp, men eager for responsibilities? He must indeed be a man who, being deeply imbued with a will to conquer, shall derive from that will (as well as from a clear perception of the only means that lead to victory) the strength to make an unwavering use of the most formidable rights, to approach with courage all difficulties and all sacrifices, to risk everything; even honour [sic] — for a beaten general is disgraced for ever [sic].[ii]
Courage and fear are perhaps the most natural of the human dimensions of combat. With courageous confidence as Field Marshal Foch’s beacon of example, the French Ninth Army instinctively followed his lead, in spite of any fear they may have had. Leading by example, and the willingness of Foch to show a demonstrable acceptance of risk and sacrifice drew his soldiers to do their duty and fight.[iii]
Obviously, in our daily lives, we are not going to find ourselves in a position to fight an army of thousands, nor are we going to make life or death decisions. But, there will come a time when we will have to face a tremendous challenge, and we will need to make hard decisions. When that time comes, it will be essential to have courage and confidence. Your power of influence, demonstrating bold leadership and poise in the face of adversity, will establish trust, loyalty and support among your people and superiors.
I’ll leave you with another poignant quote from Field Marshal Foch on the execution of a plan:
The fundamental qualities for good execution of a plan is first; intelligence; then discernment and judgement, which enables one to recognize the best method as to attain it; the singleness of purpose; and, lastly, what is most essential of all, will – stubborn will.
[ii] Precepts and Judgments. Ferdinand Foch, Hilaire Belloc, and A. Grasset. New York: H. Holt and, 1920. p. 139-140. Google eBook. Electronically Published / Digitized 09 Oct. 2008. Web. Date Accessed on 08 Nov. 2012. http://books.google.com/books?id=VkYuAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0
[iii] Inspired by the writing in the book, Leadership: The Warrior’s Art. Christopher D. Kolenda, Barry R. McCaffrey, and Walter F. Ulmer. Carlisle, PA: Army War College Foundation, 2001. Chapter Two, Teaching Combat Leadership at West Point: Closing the Gap between Expectation and Experience, by Charles F. Brower, IV and Gregory J. Dardis. p. 32-33. Google eBook. Stackpole Books, 2001. Web. Date Accessed on 08 Nov. 2012. http://books.google.com/books?id=F57e_IYaHn8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0
Sources and Recommended Content –
World War I: Marshal Ferdinand Foch – By Kennedy Hickman – About.com Military History – Accessed 8 November 2012 – About.com – http://about.com/
Ferdinand Foch – Encyclopedia Britannica – http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/211837/Ferdinand-Foch – Accessed 8 November 2012 – Encyclopedia Britannica – http://www.britannica.com/
Unjustly Accused: Marshal Ferdinand Foch and the French ‘Cult of the Offensive’ – Feature Articles – http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/foch.htm – Posted Saturday, 22 August 2009 – Accessed 8 November 2012 – Firstworldwar.com – http://www.firstworldwar.com/
The First Battle of the Marne, 1914 – Battles: The Western Front – http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/marne1.htm – Posted Saturday, 22 August, 2009 – Accessed 8 November 2012 – Firstworldwar.com – http://www.firstworldwar.com/
Execution Is Key: Getting Beyond The Plan (theentrepreneurinheelsblog.wordpress.com)