Defeat into Victory: Battling a Tough Climate with Faith, Perseverance and Lessons Learned

Moral courage is higher and a rarer virtue than physical courage. ~William J. Slim

I read great book by Sir William Slim called Defeat into Victory that inspired me to apply his perspective to law enforcement and security professionals. Sir William Slim led devastated and morale broken British forces into Burma and India with very little support from his homeland. He rebuilt morale, preparedness and readiness through experience, training and leadership that mirrored adaptive leadership methodology in a time (WWII) before the term was coined. This is not a review of the book although I will say the book is must reading for anyone seeking to understand faith and its effect on morale and ultimately perseverance to win despite mistakes, self doubt and tough odds.

The message I consistently thought of in reading this book was that we in law enforcement and security often face these same conditions, seeming loss of or lack of support, negative thoughts as to what we should or should not do, and the nagging thought that ‘no matter what I do I am in a catch 22 where naysayer people will question our motive and intent, even our honor in doing the tough job that needed to be done’. This leaves many of us in the protection professions wondering ‘why’ or giving up altogether.

The good and courageous folks who take on this job cannot afford to be caught up in self doubt. There is too much at stake in the job we do -- protecting life, and our way of life at the core of our mission.  Perseverance is the key!

Nothing can take the place of perseverance. To carry on we must first be self aware and aware of the climate of others (friendly and adversarial) who we interact with and in the circumstances we are enmeshed in. This first factor helps us acknowledge not only our strengths and weaknesses, but also to admit our fears, biases and mistakes from which we can learn and adapt and move in an initiative driven and better way faithfully despite the odds. Sir William Slim was very self-aware and because of this learned to have faith in himself, his duty, and in others as well. Look at this passage:

“The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted…The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he has done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory, for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. ‘Here, he will think, ‘I went wrong; here I took council of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.’ He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into attack that failed and who did not come back. He will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. ‘I have failed them,’ he will say to himself, ‘and failed my country!’ He will see himself for what he is, a defeated general. In a dark hour, he will turn in upon himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.

And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets, and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and self confidence. He must beat off these attacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat, they are than from victory.”

Not much more needs to be written here. The messages in this passage above pretty much say it all about what it takes to win in the toughest of times. Powerful lessons, shared openly!!! Most of us think these types of things but rarely, if ever mention them and on many occasions we simply force the thoughts out of our minds as if it’s some weakness. We should instead, heed the lessons here from Sir William Slim and seek to learn from them adapt and persevere.

The most important factor affected by perseverance, is morale. Morale comes from faith which is built on in tough times and learning from failures. It is also based on understanding and applying spiritual, intellectual and equipment based training. Training that prepares and readies us for the job that needs to be done. Training and experience, that leads to mutual trust and cohesion.

We must convince leadership and the frontline, one another that we are all part of a larger team whose mission it is to protect and serve the homeland from those who would do it harm. This requires choosing the right people for the right jobs and the right leadership to create, nurture and support frontline decision making which allows adaptability of full spectrum officers capable of full spectrum responses while doing their jobs.

Are you; is your organization prepared and ready to meet the threats of today? Are we learning from the mistakes we make and making progresses that are found in the lessons? Most importantly do we encourage discussions on failures so they are seen as the valuable tool that they are, and as opportunities to learn, unlearn, relearn, create self awareness, and develop faith, perseverance and audacity, which all lead to initiative and  turning defeat into Victory!

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” ~Winston Churchill

Stay Oriented!


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