The Philosophy of Maneuver Warfare

Maneuver Warfare in title has only existed for about 70 years, but its continuous success spans thousands of years and the evolution of warfare. Some of the greatest military minds throughout history have refined and distilled their successes into a philosophy with associated key characteristics, some of which have subsequently been applied off the battlefield with great success. Maneuver Warfare has prevailed on the battlefield throughout history because its key characteristics rely almost exclusively on the ability of leaders to effectively apply their knowledge, experience, and limited resources to achieve disproportionate results in almost any environment.

Although studying Maneuver Warfare to seek a competitive advantage in a business environment may not appear immediately obvious, there is plenty of literature and evidence supporting the notion. The challenge resides in capturing the essence of what makes Maneuver Warfare so successful and using that knowledge as one of many leadership tools that can leverage others’ successes. Taken individually, the key characteristics of Maneuver Warfare pale in comparison to the collective power of applying the philosophy of Maneuver Warfare within the culture of your organization. While you may not face an enemy on a battlefield, the enemies you do face are evident in the daily challenges of uncertainty, complexity, limited resources, tight schedules, changing requirements, competing agendas, and most importantly, fleeting opportunities. These challenges can become so overwhelming that the level of friction results in degraded efficiency and effectiveness in the organization.

U.S. Marines define Maneuver Warfare as “A warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a series of rapid, violent and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which he cannot cope.” Translated into civilian terms, Corporate Maneuver Warfare could be “An operating philosophy that seeks to influence your environment by leveraging capabilities and established characteristics, which when skillfully applied to dynamic circumstances can achieve and exceed goals and objectives.”

Understanding how to apply Maneuver Warfare can enable leaders to more effectively exercise influence over any given circumstance, fully leverage the capabilities of their organization, and recognize opportunities when they arise. Maneuver Warfare for the Marines, though, is more than a list of guiding principles. It is an ethos. The application of maneuver Warfare off the battlefield then is not just about “a series of rapid, violent and unexpected actions.” It is more about imbuing the organization and its leaders with that same culture of assertiveness, innovation, intuitive thinking, and rapid response that when coupled with its key characteristics has made the application of Maneuver Warfare so successful over time.

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