300px-ARASanLuisS32I’m a retired naval officer who specialized in the care and feeding of submarines. I have studied submarines literally from the inside out and from the earliest concepts to the latest developments. They are unsurpassed in capabilities to survey, hunt and destroy the enemy.

But in warfare, the battle is rarely one-sided. And in undersea warfare there are Anti-Submarine Warfare – ASW in short. In WWI, the Allies (the UK, US and France particularly) eventually found ways to minimize the damage of the German U-boats using conveys protected by destroyers. In WWII in the Atlantic, the same tactics plus the new technologies of sonar, radar and airpower resulted in the German U-boat becoming a deathtrap for their sailors. While in the Pacific, US submarines virtually eliminated the tankers and freighters that resulted in the paralysis of the Japanese armed forces.

The difference in each of these wars is who came to have confidence in their abilities and their weapons based on experience in battle.

Which makes the Falklands War so interesting to me because it illustrates a key factor in confidence.

Early in the war, the British submarine HMS Conqueror sank the former US light cruiser ARA General Belgrano causing the Argentine surface navy to abandon openly challenging the British naval forces. And the ARA Santa Fe – a Balao class, GUPPY program submarine, formerly USS Catfish (SS-339) – was damaged while on the surface near South Georgia. That left only the ARA San Luis – a German-built Type 209 submarine. And the captain felt that he didn’t have a chance because he was going out against what everyone agreed was the world’s best ASW force.

But he went out, found the British surface force, fired torpedoes at them – and survived the resultant counter attacks. After returning to port, it was discovered that two wires in the fire control system were switched causing all commands to the guided torpedoes to do the opposite of what was intended. The war ended before the captain could go back out to sea – BUT he knew that when he did go back out he would have sunk British ships and survived.

Now I left it to you the reader to figure out how things might have changed if the ARA San Luis had sunk multiple British ships – the British tendency was to clear the area when there was a possibility of attacks to avoid losses. But there have been enough examples in military history and even in the ordinary day-to-day world to know that once the veil of invincibility is torn, it is incredibly difficult to rebuild it.

And that’s when an enemy becomes dangerous – because they have learned how to inflict their will on their opponent and achieve their objectives and deny the enemy theirs. If it happens to you, then you start dancing to their tune rather than your own.

This is called getting inside the enemy’s OODA Loop (see my discussion here on why The OODA Loop is the best business tool you’ve never heard of). And it has implications for your business and the way that you interact with your employees and customers. If your present position is that your authority or attractiveness can’t be denied by your employees or customers or they will fear the consequences – what would happen if they don’t care what he consequences are?

For example, thinking that you don’t have to worry about keeping a long time employee because they are nearing retirement – why would they leave? – Only they get to the point where they can’t stand hitting their head against the wall? So they leave – because they realized that they could survive without you. The song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When your employees, customers, or competitors come to understand this – that’s when you start losing.

The cure is a healthy dose of humility – listening rather than talking; asking rather than telling; seeking understanding rather than being understood. But that’s a tall order when you know you’re the best, the most experienced, the most righteous, the best whatever, or you’re in charge. But at some point, there will be a small child who points out that the Emperor has no clothes.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.