Throughout history, special ops units have adhered to the philosophy of daring to do the impossible to achieve the extraordinary.
In fact, special ops date right back to biblical times. Around 1100 B.C., Israel was ruled by the Midianites. As the Bible tells it, God picked Gideon to lead a special ops attack against a vastly superior army of battle-hardened Midianites in a fortified camp. All Gideon had was a motley crew of previously defeated men.
First, Gideon released anyone who wanted to go, so 22,000 soldiers (two-thirds of his army) left. He winnowed the rest down to 300 commandos. Each one got a trumpet, a torch and an empty pitcher, and they split into three companies.
That night, they surrounded the Midianites, pitchers covering their torches. On Gideon’s command, his men broke the pitchers and blew the trumpets. Because battle etiquette at the time held that each torch represented a full company, the Midianites thought they were surrounded by 30,000 troops. They ran away.
How do you employ special ops? Apply the six principles of special ops:
- Purpose. Have a sharply defined goal. As a leader, you can’t communicate what to do if you don’t get it yourself. Use Peter Drucker’s seminal question: “What is our business and what should it be?”
- Repetition. This just means practice, the same way actors rehearse before a show.
- Speed. Win before the enemy can counterattack.
- Surprise. In 1940, Germany thought it had the British and Norwegians cowed. To its astonishment, 500 commandos and 50 seamen landed on the German-occupied Norwegian coast and took out factories producing German supplies. The operation was over before the enemy could react.
- Security. Because special ops units are so small and vulnerable, secrecy is essential.
- Simplicity. Special ops leaders take great pains to reduce the number of things that can go wrong.