If you are a leader for any amount of time, you will come to a point where you have to “Go to the wall!” If you are a leader for a long time, you will have had to do this several times during your career. When you look back you will see these points as milestones, or stumbling blocks that made or broke your career.
What does it mean to “Go to the wall!?” Wiktionary says:
- “To make an all out effort”
- “To take an extreme and determined position or measure”
These are the meanings I would like to explore. Other meanings talk about running out of options, and failing. That is not what I am discussing here.
I cannot find any background on where this term comes from but I know what imagery it conjures for me, and that analogy has some lessons for leaders that might help them look back over these moments and see milestones rather than ruin.
Picture an ancient battle. There is a huge, fortified city. Outside, there is an army who wants to take that city and you its leader. The city is run by an evil despot and the people of the city are treated as slaves. If you are going to lead your army to victory over this evil empire, you are going to have to “Go to the wall.” That is the only way you can occupy the city and bring prosperity to the people.
In business we have battles to fight. If you are a leader, you are responsible for coming up with and executing on a strategy that wins the day. To that end, lets learn a few things from the ancient generals that laid siege to fortified cities that made the difference between success and failure, greatness and oblivion.
Gather Intelligence: Everyone knows the story about the battle of Jericho. Ultimately the battle was won through supernatural intervention. Before that, the Israelite leader, Joshua, sent in spies to the city to understand their enemy and look for something that would give them an advantage. What they found out is that the people of Jericho were scared to death of the Israelite army, and the strategy they employed of brazenly marching around the fortified city each day for seven days fed that fear. When the walls came down, so did the weapons of the enemy. In business, strategies that are built on sound information have the best opportunities for success. Do your due diligence. Understand what you are REALLY up against before you lead the charge to the wall!
Garner Support: When you are going into battle against a stronghold, as a leader you are going to experience loss. It is inevitable. Therefore you need to secure enough support to sustain the loss and still move forward and achieve the objective. That may be alliances for reinforcements, money to build siege towers and catapults, treasure to buy the supplies your army will need at a premium to placate surrounding kingdoms who will lose trade with the city while you lay siege.
In business, it means making sure leadership understands the productivity dip that will result in implementing a new service, that you are prepared to deal with inevitable turnover when instituting a complete change in culture, and that the whole organization stands ready to charge the wall when the time comes.
Go slowly: When attacking a stronghold, it is not usually wise to march up with an army and charge the wall. That will not typically end well! Instead, it is a strategy of isolating the city, cutting it off from the outside world, systematically chipping away at the walls with catapults, and burn the inside of the city by lobbing fiery bombs over its walls. In time, the lack of food and supplies will cause starvation and disease to demoralize and devastate the enemy.
As a business leader, the fortress of the status-quo will often take time to overcome. The groundwork will need to be laid. Leadership development will have to be targeted to drive new values with clarity and accountability. It will not be easy, and it will not be quick. At the end of the battle the goal is to free the people of the city, your company’s staff, from the cultural strongholds that keep them from success.
Go First: After the groundwork has been laid, the plan is understood, the resources are procured, the army is armed and ready for the charge, the truly GREAT LEADER will be the first to go to the wall. An army, or an organization, will follow that leader to the gates of hell itself!