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Vol. 3, No. 11
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102 

When in Doubt, Proceed with Audacity

 © Copyright by William A. Cohen 2005


This month’s topic is audacity. The dictionary defines audacity as boldness or daring. Here’s what some famous generals (and one admiral) said about this important topic :

In war, nothing is impossible, providing you use audacity. – General George S. Patton, Jr., U.S. Army

In audacity and obstinacy will be found safety. – Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor

A bold vigorous assault has won many a faltering cause. – General Ira C. Eaker, U.S. Air Force

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! – Admiral David G. Farragut, U.S. Navy

When the situation is obscure, attack. – Colonel General Heinz Guderian, German Army

Yes, the dictionary tells us that audacity means to be daring and bold. Be bold, General Patton tells us, and you can accomplish the impossible. If the situation is in doubt or unclear, be bold says World War II German Panzer Leader General Heintz Guderian.  A bold, vigorous assault overcomes even a faltering cause agrees General Ira Eaker, who once commanded the mighty 8th Air Force in assaults against Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” Does your operation face great risk or adversity? Act with boldness. Therein lies safety, Napoleon tells us.

W. Clement Stone had his own insurance agency in Chicago. He had acquired the right to sell insurance for one of the largest companies’s in America and was doing pretty well at it. The trouble is, his agents were doing a little too well. They were taking business away from the in-house agents of one of the largest companies for which Stone’s agency was selling.

While on vacation he suddenly learned that this company would terminate his contract to sell their insurance within a couple of days. Unfortunately, this represented most of his business. Many of his employees felt that the only alternative was bankruptcy. They anticipated looking for new jobs.  Instead, Stone met with the president of this company and convinced him to give him a few weeks of additional time before having to cease selling his insurance. At the same time, Stone acted with great boldness and formed his own insurance company. In a recent year, his company, the AON Corporation reached $6 billion in annual sales with 27,000 employees.

Union Admiral Farragut was in command at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the American Civil War on August 5th, 1864. His fleet consisted of four ironclad monitors and fourteen wooden ships. He had himself lashed to the rigging of his flagship U.S.S. Hartford. As he crossed under the deadly Confederate States’ gunfire of Mobile’s harbor defenses, a mine blew up his leading ironclad monitor, the U.S.S. Tecumseh. This stopped his fleet’s advance. Some officers suggested an immediate retreat. Farragut refused to consider it. Turning the Hartford into the minefield to clear the way, he gave his famous command, “Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Mines were called torpedoes in those days.  Farragut’s command continued on course despite the danger. The other mines failed to go off, and Farragut entered Mobile Bay victoriously.

Farragut’s lesson to us echoes down through the years. How many times do we find ourselves stopped after having exploded a mine causing serious damage to our organization while on the way to reach an objective? Sure, sometimes this tells us we should seek another way. However, this is not always true. There is no certainty that we will hit other mines, or if we do whether they will explode, or even whether there are any other mines when we continue to follow the same path. Sometimes it’s best simply to give the order, “Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” and proceed.

          When the Germans surprised the allies with a surprise offensive during the closing days of World War II in the winter of 1944 to 1945, many were in panic. Senior commanders considered how far to retreat before the allied lines could be re-established and defended against this unexpected German attack. Alone among senior allied commanders, Patton talked not about retreat, but attack.  He convinced his colleagues, and got authority to pivot the line of advance of his weary troops ninety degrees and to go on the offensive. He attacked boldly into the flank of the Germans with every thing he had. Patton’s audacity turned a defeat into an even greater victory. His audacity saved lives and shortened the war.

The wisdom of the generals about audacity is this:

n     When the situation is unclear, act boldly

n     When the situation is in doubt, act boldly – security lies in boldness

n     When there are obstacles, act boldly

n     If you would dare the impossible . . . you must act boldly!



Published by AMACOM this month, SECRETS OF SPECIAL OPS LEADERSHIP: DARE THE IMPOSSIBLE – ACHIEVE THE EXTRAODINARY represents my recent massive study into special operations leadership techniques — not just one special ops organization, and not just U.S. special ops, but foreign as well. So there are techniques gleamed from U.S. Special Forces, SEALS, Marine Recon, Air Commandos, Rangers, SAS, Israeli Seyeret Makal and more going back not just to World War II, but through 7000 years of warfare. This is NOT a “business is war” book, but you will learn how to apply these eye opening concepts directly to business and other organizations.

Frances Hesselbein, former President of the Girl Scouts of America, Chairperson of the Leader to Leader Institute said:

“Leaders in all three sectors will find inspiration in the fourteen strategies this remarkable new leadership resource provides. It’s not about theory. but stirring lessons from leaders in action in every chapter.”

Former Ranger Brace Barber, author of No Excuse Leadership said:

Immediately engaging. Immediately useful. Invaluable insights for business leaders who want to gain a competitive advantage by taking ordinary resources and using them extraordinarily.”

Available now online or at your local bookstore.


“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

Clare Boothe Luce
1902-1987, American Diplomat and Writer