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THE CENTURION PRINCIPLESBattlefield Lessons for Frontline Leaders
By JEFF O'LEARY
Nelson BusinessCopyright © 2004 Col. Jeffrey O'Leary, USAF
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHannibal Champion of Carthage
Great leaders don't think outside the box-they bury it. And then they make darn sure none of their followers are tempted to dig it up again.
Most books in this genre start out with the premise that everyone can be a leader. I don't think that is true, and I believe the plethora of sorry leadership examples in corporate America bear this out. Of those leaders who are fitted to their calling, very few are willing or able to become Centurions. The weight of the leader's mantle weighs too heavily on most shoulders to be borne ably or for long. So it is not uncommon then for many to settle for "managing" situations rather than rising to leadership.
Too many leaders focus upon the trappings rather than the substance of their office. Headlines continue to reveal a corporate parade of CEOs living dissipated lifestyles, consumed by greed, lacking a moral compass, and willing to sink to any level to reach their ends. They leave no positive memory of their tenure, much less a legacy to follow. Centurions have no illusions of such"trappings," but gather the courage and will to set out through dark forests and dangerous waters while inspiring others to follow them. If you've picked up this book to learn their secrets, then you possess a willingness to test your mettle, your limitations, and your heart.
If we believed as the ancient mariners once did, that there was an edge to the ocean beyond which "great sea monsters live," few would be stout enough to venture beyond the water's edge. It takes a courageous heart, an adventurous spirit, a quick mind, and a visionary soul to become a Centurion.
I encourage you to begin by deciding whether you want to be such a leader-whether you will risk traveling into the waters where those sea monsters live. With a stout enough heart you will find your dark fears vanish in the light of dawn's greater reality. You will discover that your toughest foe to overcome is not the enemy before you but rather the enemy of great achievement that is within you. That is where your journey begins and is the focus of this book. It is what people know about themselves that ultimately defeats them. It is also what makes them afraid. That is why we begin with the box. Defined. Confined. Safe. Comfortable. Approved.
Go outside the box? You're on your own. Unlimited risk. Job security-zero. A place littered with failure. On your own and unapproved. No known road maps. Potential? Achieve what all before you thought was impossible. When you look at the risk and potential, is it any wonder so few are willing to go outside the box? Most large organizations, wittingly or not, force their employees to fit into predefined boxes or suffer the consequences. It begins with the simple and obvious, such as dress, and escalates to unwritten rules that the brightest figure out in a battle for survival. The results produce a cookie-cutter workforce that seeks to replicate those at the top-if they want to get to the top. Creativity is limited to the wall posters of corporate culture-mantras to repeat during evaluations, but never apply.
When I was a fellow at Harvard University, I loved listening to the undergraduates telling each other, "The first rule of Harvard is: break all the rules." It was simplistic, leaning toward anarchy, but had the effect of inspiring each other to be creative. In corporate, military, or civilian cultures, it takes leaders, not the "undergraduates," to instill that kind of culture.
The barriers you face today may appear to be insurmountable. But it may just be that you've been searching within a small, safe "box" for solutions when they don't exist there. Until you are willing to cross the line to "where sea monsters live," you will just "manage" the situation, rather than conquer a nearly impassable mountain.
In Hannibal's day, there were barriers and hurdles that no one could surmount. Hannibal's challenge was to find solutions to those barriers-the same as any leader today. The soon-to-be great Carthaginian general had to find a way to bring the war home to the empire of Rome. To this point, the war was a distant news event for the Romans as Hannibal rampaged far away in Spain. Rome felt safe behind the Alps to the north and with a strong navy protecting the eastern and western shores. But Hannibal wasn't a bureaucrat just managing the situation while carrying the title of "General." He was devising a plan to penetrate formidable Rome by doing something no army had ever done since Hercules (the Greek). He was going to take an army across the Alps.
Rome and Carthage-Clash of Empires
Rome and Carthage grew side by side, clashed steel against steel, and acquired allies from Spain to North Africa before facing each other in three major wars. The decisive one, the Second Punic War, lasted from 219 to 202 BC. Against the growing military might of Rome stood the great commercial empire of Carthage, which was located in what is now Tunisia. Its commercial wealth came from Spain, its largest possession.
In 219 BC, Rome began to hear of a fearsome general whose very name provoked fear in the streets wherever he approached.
"Hannibal ad portas! Hannibal is at the gates!" was the ancient equivalent of the Cold War cry, "The Russians are coming!" No general or nation had ever shaken Rome as much, or would again until Alaric the Visigoth in AD 408.
In the First Punic War, Rome defeated Carthage, whose allies were led by Hannibal's father, Hamilcar. Carthage spent the next twenty years preparing to wrest itself from the heavy burden of Roman tribute and rule. Hamilcar built Carthaginian commerce and power in Spain: New Carthage in the east, and Lisbon in the west. From these two great cities, the Carthaginians were able to amass great wealth, power, and the potential to confront Rome again.
At the age of nine, Hannibal went to Spain with his father. Before departing, his father took him to an altar and, placing his hand on the sacrifice, made him swear that he would never be a friend to the Romans. At an early age, Hannibal was devoted to his father's successor, Hasdrubal, who led the Carthaginian army in Spain. On the death of Hasdrubal, Hannibal was appointed to command the Carthaginian army in Spain and quickly conquered the remaining Spanish tribes in that region.
Alarmed at his success, the inhabitants of Saguntum, a small city in Spain, sent a cry of help to their long-standing ally, Rome. Accordingly, a Roman ambassador was sent to Hannibal, who was passing the winter at Carthage Nova. He reminded Hannibal that a treaty between the Carthaginians and Romans guaranteed the independence of Saguntum. He emphasized that any attack upon Saguntum would be viewed as a declaration of war upon Rome. Hannibal's response was to lay siege to Saguntum in 219 BC and conquer it eight months later.
Instead of declaring war, the Romans sent another envoy to Carthage itself, demanding that Hannibal be removed from command and punished. If this was not done, Rome would declare war on Carthage. Fabius, the Roman envoy, "laid his hand on the fold of his toga ... and said, 'Here, we bring you peace and war. Take which you will.' Scarcely had he spoken when the answer no less proudly rang out: 'Whichever you please, we do not care.' Fabius let the gathered folds fall, and cried: 'We give you war.'" Hannibal was appointed commander in chief at that moment-he had not reached twenty-five years of age."
The easiest way for Hannibal to get his considerable forces to Italy would have been by sea. He had enough transports, and Carthage could have provided more. Even animals as large as Hannibal's war elephants that he used to terrify the enemy's infantry could have been transported. Further, landings upon hostile coasts had rarely been opposed, but then few had even tried against Rome.
Hannibal's major impediment to successful invasion by sea was Rome's superior navy. Hannibal could have risked slipping by the Roman fleet, but he needed something more than a safe landing zone. Hannibal needed allies. He needed the help of Rome's enemies, the Gauls, to resupply his army and provide him fresh troops.
Crossing the Alps
At fifteen thousand feet at the highest point, the Alps presented a formidable challenge. Above ten thousand feet, oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life. Finding a path well below that would be difficult, yet that was where Hannibal pointed his armies.
Rome quickly sent the consul Publius Scipio to intercept Hannibal before he could reach the critical mountain pass. Because of the speed of Hannibal's army, Publius was unable to reach them in time and returned to Italy to await Hannibal, should he make it through the mountains-an occurrence Rome considered highly unlikely.
Along the way, Hannibal decimated tribes that opposed him, gathered allies that assisted him, and built roads where none existed. He widened many narrow roads so that fully equipped elephants could now pass. He left Spain in June of 218 BC with ninety thousand infantry, twelve thousand cavalry, and thirty-seven elephants. By the time Hannibal crossed the Pyrenees and Alps, he was reduced to half his infantry, two-thirds of his cavalry, and only a few of his elephants. It was a costly journey compared to what would have been a comparatively easy journey by sea. Yet, in addition to crossing the Alps, Hannibal accomplished the one goal he desperately sought-an alliance of Gauls to fight Rome.
Hannibal spent the winter resting his men and successfully recruiting thirty thousand Gauls (French) to meet the forces Rome was rushing into northern Italy. His moment of testing had arrived. Would he be known as "the son" of the great Hamilcar or a great leader in his own right? A modern-day comparison might be two presidents whose sons were also elected U.S. presidents-John Adams in the nineteenth century and George Bush in the twentieth. While an incumbent father would be a useful counselor, the weight of office can be placed upon only one pair of shoulders, which must be strong enough to bear the crushing weight of circumstances that test each leader.
Hannibal's strength rested in his ability to think beyond ordinary conventions and methods. Crossing the Alps was the first example of Hannibal's unique leadership creativity that couldn't be defined by any particular style, method, or "box." Rome faced Carthage in dozens of battles during the Second Punic War and was time and again baffled and beaten by an inscrutable leader who always seemed one step ahead of the Romans-one step out of the box.
First Contact-Rome Rushes to Disaster, 218 BC
When your enemy rushes at you in haste, step aside and his own weight and speed will offer the opportunity to trip him up. (Axiom of martial arts)
Rome faced Hannibal almost immediately upon his arrival in December as the Romans found his army in the hills across the River Trebia (west of modern Piacenza). Against the advice of Scipio "the elder," the Roman Consul Sempronius hastily crossed the river with forty thousand infantry. Hungry to be the commander who defeated Hannibal, he hurriedly prepared his army for battle. The historian Alexander recorded the short battle from the hills above the two armies.
Now with the River at their back and unable to retreat in case of defeat, the Romans faced an attack by Hannibal, his infantry in the center advancing directly and his main cavalry force, elephants, and missile-throwing light troops on each wing driving away the weaker Roman horses and falling on the Roman flanks. While the Roman army was completely occupied with these assaults, a hand-picked Carthaginian cavalry and infantry force of two thousand ... descended on the rear of the Roman Army. The converging assaults to the front, sides, and rear shattered the Romans. Only ten thousand (out of forty thousand) were able to escape, most cutting their way through the Carthaginian center. The remainder died. Hannibal probably lost only about five thousand men.
Surprise at Lake Trasimeno, 217 BC
Battle in war is inevitable. When outnumbered-outthink. When outthought-outfight. When outfought-disengage and vanish to fight another day. Always leave one ace in your pocket to be used when all else is lost. Once you've used it, you've used it. You'll need a different ace for another day.
Licking its wounds that winter, Rome prepared two armies to block Hannibal's army from threatening Rome itself. The Roman leaders expected Hannibal to soon march on Rome, and the road through the Po Valley was the easiest and most direct route. With two armies consisting of forty thousand under Nepos and twenty thousand under Geminus, they blocked his path with a formidable force.
Like Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army, Hannibal knew he had limited resources in men and equipment. He elected to confuse rather than confront. "He turned away from the waiting Roman armies, climbed over the Apennines north of Genoa, reached the coast and marched south along it. The Romans were surprised but not worried, because Hannibal would have to turn towards them to go south or cross the marshes of the Arno River, which were nearly impassable in the spring floods. So the Romans took no precautions to block that route."
Hannibal then did what no one believed could be done. Hannibal sent his army and elephants into the flooded swamps. As they tried to tread through the soft mud, many died of exhaustion. Hannibal himself, riding upon an elephant, caught an infection and permanently lost the sight of one eye. Four days later, however, his army emerged south of Rome's legions under Nepos. Hannibal's losses were heavy, but he had done what the Romans thought impossible. Nothing stood between Hannibal and Rome.
Terrified by the news, Nepos ordered his army to pursue Hannibal. Though counseled to wait for the arrival of reinforcements under Geminus, Nepos's pride and fear of Hannibal drove him as mercilessly as he drove his army. Yet Hannibal had no intention of marching on Rome. Instead, like Sherman in the U.S. Civil War, he instituted a scorched-earth policy devastating the countryside while gathering supplies to sustain his army. This infuriated Nepos, who whipped his army with greater fury, following Hannibal's path from one burnt village to another.
Excerpted from THE CENTURION PRINCIPLES by JEFF O'LEARY Copyright © 2004 by Col. Jeffrey O'Leary, USAF . Excerpted by permission.
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