How ‘N-U-T-S’ McAuliffe’s defense of Bastogne applies to today’s best business practices

Shermantank next to bust of General Anthony McAuliffe, Bastogne, Belgium, June 13, 2014 | Photo by Michielverbeek via CC BY-SA 4.0, St. George News

FEATURE — It was December 1944 and the GI’s that occupied the tiny Belgian town of Bastogne were looking forward to going home. They knew that the war would be over before Christmas. Unfortunately for the men of the 101st Airborne and the men that joined them in this so-called rest duty, there would be no presents and no singing of silent night. In fact, this December would remind them very little of the “white Christmases they used to know.”

On Dec. 15, 1944, the Germans, under the command of General Hasso Von Manteuffel, launched a massive counteroffensive through the Ardennes forest that caught the Allies completely by surprise. Hitler and his generals hoped to drive the Americans and their allies to the sea just like the British and French five years earlier. The German push was concentrated on Panzer tanks creating a spearhead through which infantry reinforcements would follow, cementing the gains made by the Panzer generals and cutting off the Americans from their commanders.

The Germans’ surprise attack caused utter chaos: entire regiments were dissolved as men broke ranks and fled before the Panzer-caused pandemonium. It would take four days for the Americans to reestablish any sort of command structure.

Within that four days, a small group of Americans, led by General Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne Division stopped the onslaught of German Panzers and Infantry in the crossroads town of Bastogne. These soldiers rebuffed attack after attack for days while the Germans attempted to conquer Bastogne. By the Dec. 22 that year, the Americans were outnumbered, outgunned, under-supplied and surrounded by the enemy.

It was under these circumstances that the German Commander sent a message to Gen. McAuliffe, demanding he surrender his forces. McAuliffe replied in one word: “N-U-T-S.” The defense of Bastogne proved a major impediment to the German armored offensive and a boost to the morale of the Allied forces on the western front, all thanks to “NUTS” McAuliffe and his stubborn defense of a small town.

U.S. General Anthony McAuliffe, date and location not specified | Public domain image, St. George News

Business is war. The sooner we learn to look at it this way, the sooner we can begin to win that war and protect the going concern of our companies. I believe in the judicious use of history as a guidebook to great strategy. Those who fail to properly apply the lessons of the past are ill-equipped to face the challenges of the future. Strategy and tactics are the same, on the battlefield and in the boardroom. They may wear slightly different apparel — one wears a Flannel tie, the other a flak jacket — but there can still be flanking maneuvers, offensives and stubborn defenses.

In the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive was stopped because their forces were under-supplied, under trained and because the vision of management was just not realistic. Driving the allies to the sea was a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” How often in our companies do we send our employees to do a task with too small a budget, unclarified expectations or unrealistic expectations?

Employees are like soldiers, they are trained to do specialized tasks. As they gain ability to do a specific task, they move up the ladder of command. But if the troops aren’t given adequate supply, how can they meet expectations? An engineer cannot build a bridge unless given the supplies to do so. A tank commander cannot engage the enemy unless he is given sufficient gas and ammunition. An employee cannot create projections or a new marketing plan unless they are given the data, budget and team necessary to succeed.

McAuliffe was able to hold the Germans at bay because he had adequate supply and his troops had adequate training to fill in the gaps. The key to being a good commander is to set your troops up for success. By providing adequate supply, budget and people, you do just that. Give them every tool they need to succeed, and they will do it.

Remember, employees want to meet or exceed expectations  and deliver value; help them do it by giving them the support they need. That support may come in the form of training or supply.

When you do, you’ll find that they rise to the level of training and trust you give them.

Keep your sword sharp.

Written by ZACHARY STUCKI. Stucki is a business consultant based in St. George, Utah, with years of experience helping companies hit their targets and scale their businesses. He holds an MBA from Arizona State University and focuses on supplying clients with the latest solutions, as well as time-tested solutions garnered through human history. Contact Stucki at [email protected].

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