If the mind is to survive this constant battle with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that even in this moment of intense darkness retains some trace of the inner light that will lead to truth, and second, the courage to go where that faint light leads. —Carl von Clausewitz
The events of September 11 and the ongoing economic downturn have created a business environment of nearly paralyzing uncertainty. As a result, there will be greater demands on the capacity of senior executives to lead than in any recent period in business history. Some of the best insights into meeting this leadership challenge come from a book written nearly 170 years ago: the classic text of military strategy, On War, by the nineteenth-century Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz.
Clausewitz lived through the unprecedented social and political upheaval inaugurated by the French Revolution and spread throughout Europe by the Napoleonic Wars. His experience in those conflicts led him to develop a view of war as the archetypal “realm of uncertainty.” Deeply influenced by the example of Napoleon, Clausewitz believed that in times of extreme uncertainty, great leaders emerge.
In his book, Clausewitz describes three basic challenges of leadership in a time of uncertainty. They are as relevant for business executives today as they are for military and political leaders.