April 17, 2020

History’s Greatest Strategists: Admiral Horatio Nelson

April 17, 2020

History’s Greatest Strategists: Admiral Horatio Nelson

Marketing Strategy, History's Greatest Strategists

To say that the Covid Pandemic is unprecedented and epoch-changing is an understatement. In the past few months, the world has undergone a complete overhaul. 

Social and economic conditions have changed and industries all over the world are reeling from the effects of the pandemic. 

And as an industry leader, one can’t help wonder. What could I do during such times? How can my organisation survive and thrive? How would other great leaders and strategists overcome these hurdles? 

In this series we use the Step Change creativity tool to show how some of the greatest strategists in history might apply their strategies to the current crisis. 

Great Strategist of the Day: Lord Horatio Nelson

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Lord Horatio Nelson is known as the hero of Trafalgar and Britain's greatest admiral.  He was instrumental in keeping Great Britain afloat during the decade-long wars with Napoleon Bonaparte. And was the mastermind behind  some of Britain’s most successful naval battles.

A courageous fighter and prodigious sailor, Lord Nelson was known for his daredevil forays and his incredible charisma. His charisma was so palpable that it was even dubbed the “Nelson Touch”.  He fought in multiple battles throughout his naval career, and subsequently lost an eye, an arm and ultimately his life at the battle of Trafalgar.

How would he have handled the Covid crisis?

Lord Horatio Nelson was actually pretty well suited for this type of crisis. In that he didn’t mind uncertainty, he did not mind facing challenging odds and he wasn’t bound by the conventional wisdom of the day. His greatest triumph was the battle of Trafalgar and he showed his nerve and skill during the worst of times.

Key strategies:

  • Ability to identify where the challenges and opportunities are

Nelson was renowned for his skills as a commander, and during battle he had an uncanny ability to assess the challenges he faced and spot weaknesses in his enemies. One great example is when he was outnumbered in Trafalgar. He was faced with a combined French and Spanish force of 33 ships. He only had 27 ships, but because he accepted the challenge and took the risk, he was able to carry the day.

As a leader, we can learn a lot from Nelson. Right now the Covid Crisis may seem daunting. But  if you know your strengths and spot the weakness in your competition, and take the appropriate calculated risks, you will be able to survive and even thrive in the current economic landscape.

  • He understood where he was strong

A myriad of businesses are suffering due to the Covid crisis. And if you want your organisation to survive, you will need to take a feather from Nelson’s cap. He knew the strengths of his ships and cannons. He knew the best angles to bombard enemy ships. He also knew how to choose the site of his sea battles. 

So if you want to truly thrive despite the uncertain times, you will need to know your organisation’s strengths. By doing so, you can stick to your strengths and in the process cover up any weaknesses at the same time.

  • He knew how to inspire his crew


During the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was outnumbered and outgunned. But despite it all he came out victorious. And one of his greatest advantages was that he knew his crew. He knew their strengths and weaknesses. 

But most of all he knew the kind of men they were. He knew how to inspire them despite the threat of defeat. He was able to create a culture of resilience and he was noted to have said to his crewmen, If you could pull your ship against that of your contemporary, you will win the day.

This means that Nelson knew that the path to victory was close quarters combat. And in order to fulfil this risky type of strategy, he knew he needed his men to trust him and his judgement. 

And during times of crisis such as ours, a leader must know how to inspire his people. A leader must know how to engage with his people on a personal level and make them care about the bigger picture. 

If you want to learn more about how Lord Nelson would have handled the Covid Crisis click here.

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