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No Campaign Goes According to Plan

Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke said, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” Paraphrased, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’

No matter how well we plan campaigns, and we should plan them carefully, we’re not acting in a vacuum. Every action we take drives response from our opponents, which in turn requires our response.

You’ll Never Have Enough

I’ve yet to meet a campaign manager or candidate who claimed to have more money, volunteer hours or time than they wanted. Each asset is a scarce resource and requires careful stewarding. Even though we know that, and we know that we’ll never have enough, every campaign I’ve observed has times when morale suffers because staff, volunteers and even the candidate start wishing they were operating in a fantasy land.

Volunteers won’t come in on time, the printer broke, Steve keeps cutting the walking lists wrong, the wi-fi is too slow, we can’t walk this weekend because of storms. People are imperfect. Technology breaks. The weather doesn’t cooperate.

Nothing Works, Everything Sucks!

I’m a huge fan of the book Extreme Ownership and the Jocko Podcast. Jocko Willink was a Navy SEAL and commanded Task Force Bruiser in Ramadi, Iraq during one of the toughest parts of the war. His book and podcast are a goldmine of strategies and tactics for leaders of every genre. During one of his recent podcast episodes, Jocko discussed how they dealt with complaints while on deployment.

Often, the complaints they faced were from issues far outside their control. From up-line command decisions to equipment that wasn’t reliable. In these situations, their response was, “Nothing Works. Everything Sucks.” Then they would move on to how to best solve the situation.

They knew that they weren’t living in a perfect world. Their resources were limited, they were living in a hot war zone and their commanders didn’t always see things the way they did. But that didn’t mean they could allow those obstacles to get in their way. Just because nothing worked and everything sucked, they couldn’t sit on their thumbs. They had a mission to do!

Accomplish the Mission

Whatever your campaign role, it’s your job to make sure your mission is accomplished. Whether it’s getting 500 doors knocked even though it’s looking like rain, or figuring out a way to prepare a press release when wi-fi is out or your computer isn’t working. Complaining about things we can’t control does us no good. In fact, it crushes morale and feeds into a self-fueling cycle of excuses. Failure is the result.

Life isn’t perfect and campaigns never go the way we planned. Things always go wrong, but it’s how you deal with those sub-optimal situations that will determine your success or failure.

Don’t focus on what you can’t do, doesn’t work or is really hard. Keep your mind and eyes focused on building an executing a plan that leads to victory.

I’ll end with this observation from another Prussian Genera, Carl von Clausewitz,

Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.

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