I’ve finished reading “Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson” by S.C. Gwynne. There are some terrific applications of Jackson’s military and management practices for today’s executives. First I explored how Jackson continually reached out for superior intelligence of his enemy as well as the territory presented him. Next, let’s look at how Jackson strove to provide misinformation to his adversaries.
Feint, a word hardly used in today’s management lexicon, and a strategy ignored by most executives. Feint is from the world of fencing, a French term for maneuvers meant to distract or mislead a competitor, creating a vulnerable situation.
Jackson and his Civil War peers used feints and misdirection regularly to attempt to manipulate their foes. As Jackson’s legend grew in the Union, he was able to use feints more effectively. General George McClellan wanted to believe the worst case scenario about what Jackson was doing, leading to the reporting of misinformation to Washington, sending his troops in the wrong direction, or creating hesitance and inaction.
Jackson accomplished this with a variety of tactics. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry were particularly adept at creating damage, mischief, and noise that created distraction. Jackson would purposely expose troops visually to create false illusions of movements.
These feints used obvious and subtle resources of the Union. Union troops were lost, taken captive, or removed from battle by being in the wrong place at the right time. Ammunition, food, and supplies were both consumed by Union troops and harvested by Jackson’s victorious troops.
The United States’ superior industrial capabilities, wealth, and population meant these resources could ultimately be replenished. The more subtle resources were also more crucial in the near-term for Jackson. These feints kept the attention and focus of his foes. This not only occurred in the theater Jackson participated in but caused significant distraction in Washington as well.
Jackson also sapped the confidence of his enemy. This led to hesitance and downright insubordination throughout the chain of command in the Union Army. Jackson deteriorated the morale of the Union solder. Execution suffered, desertion was rampant, and doubt abounded.
And Jackson took one of the most precious resources away from the Union leadership, time. He wasted their time as they plotted the wrong tactics to counter incorrect movements caused by incorrect information. Almost always outnumbered, Jackson more than leveled the playing field through his feints.
Fast-forward to today’s marketplace. Why do we used feints so rarely as part of our efforts? One of the main reasons is the simple struggle that many executives face to execute tactics in the first place. We have more sophisticated goals, objectives, and metrics than ever before, yet many companies struggle more to achieve true organic growth than they did twenty years ago. Sales and Marketing leaders see their budgets slashed and their stretch goals stretched. Front-end turnover is a never-ending cycle of poaching, onboarding, waiting, then searching for new salespeople in some industries.
We throw too many tactics at the same stretched resources. Creating a tactic of feints and misdirection would seem like a foolish endeavor for most risk-averse firms, a surefire way for a CMO, VP/GM, or Sales Executive to be shown the door.
And yet creating false impressions within your competition can send them to utilize their budgets, their headcount, their executive attention, and especially their time on the wrong things. What’s left when this happens? A more fertile field to harvest share of account, factory by factory, opportunity by opportunity, country by country.
Feints. Part of the toolkit of executives who embrace risk, creativity, and failing quickly. And a great way to level the playing field, especially when you are out-manned and outgunned.