Center of Gravity and Critical Vulnerability: Why Using Strengths and Exploiting Weakness is a Key L

Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

1. Effective leaders recognize bias and employ their team within the scope of their abilities.

2. Leaders must re-learn the art of exploitation.

3. Exploitation in business is necessary for long-term success.


During one of my combat tours to Afghanistan I was abruptly tasked with a mission involving substantial risk to my Marines. We used a drone to drop a bomb on an enemy sniper and his spotter who were wreaking havoc on us and adjacent units for several weeks. They were a few kilometers outside of our lines. We needed to conduct a BDA, or Battle Damage Assessment. This is where we physically inspect the damage, collect evidence and even fingerprints (to go in our database) and gather any weapons and gear that he may have had to prevent others from acquiring them.

What really made it dangerous was the fact that the area where they were located was completely saturated with IED’s or Improvised Explosive Devices and was surrounded by trees. As I had already lost several of my Marines to these IED’s on this deployment (and many more over the years), and knew that we consistently took small arms fire from tree lines, I was hesitant to just rush out and conduct the BDA. Besides, I'd been shot by a sniper in Iraq, and wasn't fond of doing so again. We had to move quickly, however, as another enemy grabbing up his sniper rifle and turning it into a psychological game would obviously impact us negatively, as well as the local populace who we were attempting to win over to our side.

"I was not looking forward to getting shot by another sniper. Once was enough."

I had three squads of roughly 15 Marines and support personnel at my disposal. One squad was the obvious choice. They were quick, decisive, intelligent, and lead by a very competent squad leader. But they were also the farthest away by an additional kilometer. That may not seem very far, but in combat, it can be a light year. Another squad was occupied with other duties and unable to conduct the BDA in a timely manner. That left my third option, which was actually my Second Squad. I couldn’t take the entire squad, however, as each squad was guarding its own position. That meant I had to take a portion of Second Squad and leave the rest on defense. We were now going to take six of us instead of the full squad, and we were going to move fast, undermanned, into enemy controlled territory. I had to decide who was going and had to decide quickly.

One of the Fire Team Leaders in that squad was by no means stupid, but he wasn’t the brightest. He was strong, but he was also physically slower than many of my Marines. But he was aggressive, and he and his team had additional training on the evidence-collecting aspect of the mission. I chose him and we left within three minutes of receiving our order from the Company HQ. We conducted the mission successfully, acquiring a sniper rifle, bomb-making materials, documents and position locations, and additional gear and equipment. We made it back with no casualties.


One of the 11 Marine Corps Leadership Principles is “Know your Marines and look out for their welfare”. Another is “Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities”. The first principle must be applied in order to accomplish the second. I knew my Marines and chose the best Fire Team and Leader for the job at hand based on the circumstances. But all too often, leaders in an organization are content to choose only their “best” leader or team to conduct a task. This causes several problems.

First, your bias is detrimental to the overall success of the organization. Sure, the job may get done, but at what cost? The other team or person who was positioned to get the job done well was passed over in lieu of you deciding to play favorites. Congratulations, you’ve just introduced the hated “politics” that so many people complain of in corporate America straight into your organization.