The #1 Leadership Quality or What Clausewitz Told Me: DeMarco Banter

1812chess-popupLeadership Strategy- in today’s world of “leaders” it is often quickly set aside, disregarded, or viewed as antiquated.  Perhaps it is my own baggage that I carry, but without strategy how does a leader know where s/he is going or where the organization is headed?  That said, there is still something unseen in a true leader.  Strategy is important, but have you ever met an individual who had “something” that told you…this person IS a LEADER?  Perhaps it is not the #1 quality, but that something is coup d’œil.

Every activity a leader engages in requires specific aptitudes of mind and heart.  In the culture of warriors, we are constantly confronted by the unexpected.  To survive we must have the vision to find the light that leads to truth….even in moments of darkness….and we must have the courage and the determination to follow that light.  How do leaders find that light and what is it?

Coup d’œil—which, translated from the French, means “power of the glance“: the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield.  It is a central part of what it means to be human.  We use it whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.  We use coup d’œil because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there.  Lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a “light,” even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.

Malcolm Gladwell address Coup d’œil in his 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingBlink presents in popular science format research from psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious; mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. It considers both the strengths of the adaptive unconscious, for example in expert judgment, and its pitfalls such as stereotypes.

Coup d’œil is the light:   coup d’œil is the ability to discern at one glance …in a Blink…the tactical (dis)advantages of the terrain. For example, the famous King Frederick the Great of Prussia in his 1753 “Particular Instructions” devotes special attention to the military coup d’œil, defining it as:
“[T]he perfection of that art to learn at one just and determined view the benefits and disadvantages of a country where posts are to be placed and how to act upon the annoyance of the enemy. This is, in a word, the true meaning of a coup d’œil, without which an officer may commit errors of the greatest consequence.

The phrase popularly comes from Clausewitz:

When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them

Napoleon remarked upon it:

There is a gift of being able to see at a glance the possibilities offered by the terrain…One can call it the coup d’œil militaire and it is inborn in great generals.

As did Folard and Liddell Hart:

The coup d’œil is a gift of God and cannot be acquired; but if professional knowledge does not perfect it, one can only see things imperfectly and in a fog, which is not enough in these matters where it is important to have a clear eye…To look over a battlefield, to take in at the first instance the advantages and disadvantages is the great quality of a general.
A vital faculty of generalship is the power of grasping instantly the picture of the ground and the situation, of relating one to the other, and the local to the general.

Coup d’œil..the light….or Blink….or thin slicing (Gladwell’s term)… or let’s call it a flash of genius to sift through all forces and relationships at play to find the right course.  A true leader needs the courage to face decisions, danger, and responsibility.  This kind of courage is an act of soul-of heart…not of mind–and perhaps this is why it is so difficult to display coup d’œil today.  With coup d’œil–determination relieves doubts and saves the leader from procrastination.

Commanders/leaders don’t need to be scholars or academics, but command demands courage and an understanding of the politics and issues behind the struggles and interests of all of those involved.  Leaders must know the strengths, characters, and capabilities of the people they lead and must be able to estimate how they will perform under extreme conditions.  This demands a talented mind…and the courage to use it.  This is why all the stellar leaders throughout history have always had amazing minds–they can call on this coup d’œil…this light…this flash of genius and utilize it.  There has never been an outstanding commander that suffered from a lesser mind.

“This type of knowledge… can only be gained through a talent for judgment and by the application of accurate judgment to the observation of man and matter.”

Carl von Clausewitz
– On War

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