Coming in a month we are remembering the Battle of Waterloo 200 years on from the defining events of 18th June 1815 we thought we would look at what business could learn from the Duke of Wellington aka “The Iron Duke”.
Know your objective and focus on it: As Wellington put it “the whole objective of war consists of getting at what is on the other side of the hill”.
Plan and resource properly and realistically: Waterloo was a great victory on the battlefield but to get 118,000 men from six allies in the right place, at the right time well equipped and ready for battle was an enormous logistical exercise. Throughout his career Wellington did not commit unless he had the right resources, and when he needed to commit he made sure the resources were there.
Define targets and responsibilities: Set yourself and your organisation targets, know who is responsible for them and monitor and achieve them. As Wellington said “my rule always was to do in the day the business of the day”.
Be willing to adapt: Wellington only committed to battle late in the day on the 17th June – once it was clear the Prussians had regrouped adequately to support. As the battle unfolded, he was ready to commit the resource to defend Hougoumont once it was clear how important it might be, without ever over committing. Wellington also adapted rapidly to the critical loss of the garrison at La Haye Sainte.
Observe, study, listen, learn: What’s your landscape, your own resources, the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Wellington was meticulous in his preparation studying every facet of the landscape and his adversaries – and particularly Napoleon. As Wellington put it “wise people learn when they can, fools learn when they must”.
Face reality: In Wellington’s words “The only thing I am afraid of is fear”. Got problems – well find them, surface them deal with them – don’t let them linger.
Show commitment to your team. Wellington was no pushover as a leader. He demanded the highest standards of commitment and integrity. However, in return his support for his team was unequivocal. Never let your standards slip – but you want someone to commit for you – show you will do that for them.
Avoid conflicted interests: Again I cannot do better than his words “I mistrust the judgement of every man [person] in a case in which his [her] own wishes are concerned”; What is worth adding is stay away from conflicts yourself – and make sure those around you are empowered to tell you early if ever this is at risk.
Build alliances: The Battle of Waterloo was not won by the British – although we may like to believe that. The British army in Europe was pretty exhausted and stretched from seven years of Peninsular War (after which many of the battle hardened troops had gone directly to fight in the the US). Waterloo was won by allies of The Seventh Coalition with the egos and vested interests that brought. Even late into the evening of 17th June Blucher’ chief of staff had been distrustful of Wellington’s strategy and Blucher had to be won around. You too should identify allies and build alliances.
Keep your feet on the ground: Wellington was decisive but remarkably uncavalier, he shied away from flattery, admitted mistakes readily and never resorted to blaming his troops (not that he needed to). These are traits well worth following.
Much has changed in Europe over 200 years – although some may observe that our remarkable capacity to both form powerful alliances and tear each other apart remains undiminished. However, there are some powerful lessons we can take from Wellington’s success.
Note: Nothing in this article is intended as an endorsement of all of the management or strategy of the Duke of Wellington or of invasion, war, imperialism, the use of firearms or colonialism.

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