Welcome to #Leadership101 on Inspire Africa Project! We usually look down on underdogs and that is why they will always take people by surprise. Let us dig into history and learn some lessons about the advantages of underdogs. “One of the winning underdogs was T. E Lawrence (or, as he is ether known, Lawrence of Arabia), who led the Arab revolt against the Turkish army occupying Arabia near the end of the First World War.
The British were helping the Arabs in their uprising, and their goal was to destroy the long railroad the Turks had built running from Damascus deep into the Hejaz Desert. It was a daunting task. The Turks had a formidable modern army.
Lawrence, by contrast, commanded an unruly band of Bedouin. They were not skilled troops. They were nomads. Sir Reginald Wingate, one of the British commanders in the region, called them “an untrained rabble, most of whom have never fired a rifle.” But they were tough and they were mobile.
The typical Bedouin soldier carried no more than a rifle, a hundred pounds of ammunition, and forty-five pounds of flour, which meant that he could travel as much as 110 miles a day across the desert, even in summer. They carried no more than a pint of drinking water, since they were so good at finding water in the desert.
“Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power,” Lawrence wrote. “Our largest available resources were the tribesmen, men quite unused to formal warfare, whose assets were movement, endurance, individual intelligence, knowledge of the country, courage.”
The eighteenth-century general Maurice de saxe famously said that the art of war was about legs, not arms, and Lawrence’s troops were all legs. In one typical stretch in the spring of 1917, his men dynamited sixty rails and cut a telegraph line at Buair on March 24, sabotaged a train and twenty-five rails at Au al-Naam on March 25, dynamited fifteen rails and cut a telegraph line at Istabl Antar on March 27, raided a Turkish garrison and derailed a train on March 29, returned to Buair and sabotaged the railway line again on March 31, dynamited eleven rails at Hedia on April 3, raided the train line in the area of Wadi Daiji on April 4 and 5, and attacked twice on April 6.
Lawrence’s masterstroke was an assault on the port town of Aqaba. The Turks expected an attack from British ships patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba to the west. Lawrence decided to attack from the east instead, coming at the city from the unprotected desert, and to do that, he led his men on an audacious, six-hundred-mile loop-up from the Hejaz, north into the Syrian desert, and then back down toward Aqaba.
This was in summer, through some of the most inhospitable land in the Middle East, and Lawrence tacked on a side trip to the outskirts of Damascus in order to mislead the Turks about his intentions.
“This year the valley seemed creeping with horned viper and puff-adders, cobras and black snakes,” Lawrence writes in Seven Pillars of Wisdom about one stage in the journey: We could not lightly draw water after dark, for there were snakes swimming in the pools or clustering in knots around their brinks.
Twice puff-adders came twisting into the alert ring over our debating coffee-circle. Three of our men died of bites: four recovered after great fear and pain, and swelling of poisonous limb. Howeitat treatment was to bind up the part with snake-skin plaster, and read chapters of the Koran to the sufferer until he died.
When they finally arrived at Aqaba, Lawrence’s band of several hundred warriors killed or captured twelve hundred Turks and lost only two men. The Turks simply had not thought that their opponent would be crazy enough to come at them from the desert.
Sir Reginald Wingate called Lawrence’s men an “untrained rabble.” He saw the Turks as the overwhelming favourites. But can you see how strange that was? Having lots of soldiers and weapons and resources as the Turks did is an advantage. But it makes you immobile and puts you on the defensive.
Meanwhile, movements, endurance, individual intelligence, knowledge of the country, and courage- which Lawrence’s men had in abundance allowed them to do the impossible, namely, attack Aqaba from the east, a strategy so audacious that the Turks never saw it coming.”-Malcolm Gladwell. (Culled from, David And Goliath).
Reading through this story showed me that underdogs can be dangerous especially when you look down on them. I will share my thought tomorrow, but for now, what lessons did you learn from this story? Kindly share with us at the comment section of this blog. Connect with us on Facebook: Inspire Africa Project. Twitter @InspireAfricaP.