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Liddell Hart’s 8 Maxims of Strategy

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Sir Basil Henry Liddell-Hart (October 31, 1895 – January 29, 1970) was a British strategist, historian, and one of the world’s foremost military thinkers.  B. H. Liddell-Hart was a prolific writer and wrote extensively on military strategy and tactics.

Liddell-Hart’s work titled “Strategy” is considered one of the most important works on military strategy of the 20th century.  The book examines the art of warfare and provides a comprehensive analysis of the strategies and tactics used by great military leaders throughout history.  It then describes the various components of strategy, including the selection of objectives, the allocation of resources, and the planning and execution of strategy & operations.

Liddell-Hart argues that the key to successful war strategy is the ability to maneuver and outflank the enemy rather than engage in direct confrontation.  He emphasizes the importance of deception, surprise, and the exploitation of the enemy’s weaknesses in his indirect approach.  His vision for strategy applies not only to the military but also to strategic endeavors in other sectors.

Liddell-Hart, in his 8 famous maxims of strategy, offers guidelines to ensure proper implementation of a modern, indirect approach to confrontation:

  1. Adjust your ends to your means.
  2. Always keep your object in mind while adapting your plan to circumstances.
  3. Choose the line (or course) of least expectation.
  4. Exploit the line of least resistance, so long as it can lead you to any objective that would contribute to your underlying object.
  5. Take a line of operation that offers alternative objectives.
  6. Ensure that both plans and dispositions are flexible and adaptable to circumstances.
  7. Do not throw your weight into a stroke while your opponent is on guard or he is well placed to parry or evade it.
  8. Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) once it has failed.

Let’s dive deeper into some of these Strategy maxims.

Maxim 1. Adjust your ends to your means.

Liddell-Hart’s first maxim emphasizes the importance of being realistic in setting goals, understanding our limitations, maintaining a positive attitude, and staying aware of the challenges.  Liddell-Hart argues that for any military strategy to be effective, the political objectives must be compatible with the total military means available to achieve them.

If conflicts are fought to accomplish political goals, then those goals should not exceed the resources available to achieve them.  If goals are beyond means, there is a strong possibility of engaging in a pointless conflict with negligible chances of realizing positive results.

Maxim 2. Always keep your object in mind, while adapting your plan to circumstances.

This maxim highlights the importance of balancing a clear objective with flexibility and adaptability in the face of changing conditions.  The crux of this tenet is to carefully evaluate and consider each alternative based on its relevance and contribution to the larger objective before making a decision.

Liddell-Hart believed that a successful military strategy requires the ability to adjust as conditions on the ground evolve.  In practical terms, this axiom suggests that a commander should have a clear overall goal but also be willing to reassess their strategy—in light of new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles—and shift focus to different objectives to respond more effectively to unexpected developments.

Maxim 3. Choose the line (or course) of least expectation.

By this maxim, Liddell-Hart asserts that a successful military strategy should surprise the enemy and focus on finding ways to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities rather than simply relying on brute force to achieve victory.

By choosing a line of attack that the enemy is not expecting, a commander can gain a tactical advantage and put the enemy on the defensive.  Military strategists may use deception and misdirection to distract and confuse the enemy.  This necessitates carefully considering the opponent’s thought process and motivations to anticipate their moves and plan accordingly to achieve a strategic edge in a situation.

Interested in learning more about the other maxims of Strategy? You can download an editable PowerPoint presentation on Liddle Hart’s 8 Maxim’s of Strategy here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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