The Rock

The Rock by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

The two 12-inch guns had a range of almost 17 miles—talk about secure! No wonder Corregidor (or Fort Mills) was called the “Gibraltar of the East” or simply “The Rock.” The island fortress at one point during Second World War became the temporary location for the Government of the Philippines and Allied Headquarters under General MacArthur. Twenty-three batteries on The Rock boasted scores of coastal guns/mortars in addition to a number of anti-aircraft batteries and powerful searchlights.

While on a recent trip to Manila, my family and I had the privilege of visiting this island which is located in the mouth of Manila Bay. The Rock was part of a defensive chain consisting of four fortified islands protecting the mouth of Manila Bay from attack. In addition to the heavy artillery, there was an extensive tunnel system (under Malinta Hill) that was very impressive. Malinta Tunnel consisted of a main tunnel with 25 side passages/tunnels that housed a chapel, field offices, a hospital (1,000+ beds), shops, storehouses, etc. The reinforced concrete floors, walls, and arches seemed impenetrable. Fresh air was furnished via a system of blowers and a tramway line in the main tunnel eased the burden of moving stores – a virtual underground city.

In the end, The Rock fell to the Japanese in 1942 in a key battle that involved nearby Bataan, resulted in MacArthur’s evacuation to Australia via Mindanao (a southern Philippine island), and the infamous Bataan Death March. … Though the American forces ultimately came back in 1945 and liberated the Philippines, including the island of Corregidor, there are numerous leadership lessons (good and bad) one can glean from this piece of history and the fall of Corregidor.

The lesson that stuck in my brain throughout the day as we visited the Malinta Tunnel, Batteries Grubbs, Hearns, and Way (the picture above is a mortar from Battery Way) was that nothing is impenetrable. Organizations, people, and defenses must adapt or risk defeat. … We can’t rest on our laurels. As impressive as the defenses of Corregidor were in 1942, The Rock fell.

And 1942 was not the first time this lesson was learned. Unfortunately, this hard lesson has been repeated around the globe many times across the millennia by all types of organizations. Armies get complacent. Corporations get lazy. People get distracted.

I’m definitely NOT an expert on war and I’m NOT in a position to criticize the defense of Corregidor or the strategies developed by the generals and executed by the troops. I am, however, somewhat knowledgeable on leadership, change management and strategic decision-making in general. Some truisms that you can take to the bank in this century or the next if you want to achieve lastly success:

  1. Develop competency in change management
  2. Remain flexible (strategically, tactically, and emotionally)
  3. Continually update your strategy and operational tactics (even if your core mission/values remain constant)
  4. Don’t become complacent, rest on your laurels, or underestimate a determined foe or strong competitor
  5. Use outsiders (who are objective, honest and smart) to look for your “Achilles heel” – the victor rarely comes through the area of strongest defense

How are you adapting to the changing environment around you? Are you flexible? Are you using outdated strategies? Are you willing and capable of making the necessary changes to keep on top?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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