Charge the Line

Part 7: The Art of Leadership - Rout

By Josh Fowler

When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout.


Rout is defined as a disorderly retreat of defeated troops. How do you estimate the enemy’s strength? You study them. Leaders are lifelong learners. As the leader, you are responsible for knowing and understanding aspects of your organization that can lead to failure and ultimately defeat.

You are responsible for knowing how to read the conditions in real-time as well as calculating risk based on those conditions. You are responsible for maintaining a thirty-thousand foot strategic view while occasionally grounding yourself to maintain tactical advantage in order to preserve and promote your organization. You are responsible for making decisions related to the above and estimating the enemy’s strength in milliseconds. Does that sound like a tall order? It is, and it’s the one you agreed to take on when you accepted your position.

The learning process does not simply happen overnight. It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to master. To prevent rout, leadership gauges the situation or event and determines if the organization’s response meets the needs to have a successful outcome. If the needs outweigh the response, then additional resources must be utilized.

In addition to real-time conditions, strategy and tactics, you must also know the capabilities of your personnel. Are your personnel trained and capable of mitigating every known variable that can be thrown at them? If you said yes, then my hat’s off to you, but if you said no, then you’re not lying like the other person. Train and train often. Nobody ever got worse by practicing.

Every leader has been, is currently, or will be exposed to the same calamities Sun Tzu wrote of. Although our dealings are not within the realm of war between two armies, we are certainly facing daily battles where lives hang in the balance.

Remember, these calamities are not mere accidents. They are the direct results of poor leadership. Should you find yourself as one who has attained a responsible post, take heed and learn from these invaluable pieces of wisdom. If you do, you will most certainly shine as a beacon of light to those you lead when they are in their darkest hour.