The Beach Head Strategy

The movie Saving Private Ryan portrayed with savage realism the D-Day Invasion and the awful brutality of war.  But it also introduced the younger generation to an amazing event that was the turning point of World War 2.  The mission was to extract Europe from the grip of Adolf Hitler. 

So how did they capture something as big as Europe?  Certainly not by dropping paratroopers in a number of different spots around the continent and saying, “Go get ‘em boys”.


D-Day was successful because they focused on getting tens of thousands of Allied soldiers to capture one small beachhead on the coast of France.  Sure, it was a long way from Berlin but it was this beachhead that was the start.  They moved from that victory to another small “beachhead”. 


From the beach, they took a farm,  from the farm, a bridge, then one village and another village and so on, until one day they marched into Berlin.  All that ground  was conquered – not in one blazing victory but one “beachhead” at a time.


“So what’s your point?” I hear you ask.


The point is that  business leaders and coaches can learn a lot from this story.   Individuals and organisations often experience their own private ‘wars’ as they ‘march’ to their mission or towards their goals.  I recently  witnessed an organisation that failed to use this strategy.  Its leaders tried to take five beachheads within the space of one year without securing their first “beach head” (Region, State, Australia, US and Asia). Marching on all fronts at once was a disaster.  Resources, both capital and human, were overstretched, the strategic plan was confused, the vision was lost in the confusion, communication broke down, decision making was reactive and not in alignment with the organisational Purpose or its stated values and morale was crushed. Casualties were enormous! The result you already know! Private Ryan was not saved and never could have been.


Securing one “beach head” at a time is an important leadership principle.  Sometimes leaders are tempted to go for the quick kill, trying to achieve their targets in record time by attacking on all fronts at once. It may work with unlimited firepower but this strategy of spreading and deploying forces too thinly is rarely successful.


The beachhead principle  is also useful in coaching. Once your clients’ goals have been clearly defined, options are considered and an action plan is developed with the client. In life coaching scenario, a client may present to you with  their life in disarray or off-purpose, as we would say.  Most of their life accounts may be overdrawn and indeed, some of them could be bankrupt!  Family relationships may be stretched to breaking point and financial stress could have become a  highly charged and emotional issue.  Physical, spiritual and mental health may have been put on the “back burner”, because vocational stress, caused by a  forced redundancy, is creating panic and is consuming all the energy available.  It is red alert time!


Tackling several  fronts at once may seem a tempting way to help get the client back on-purpose as quickly as possible.  However, the coach’s ability to help the client find the number one priority or strategy to make the maximum immediate impact, is going to be far more powerful long term.  If coaches know about the beach head principle, they can  help their clients focus their resources and energies to take one beachhead at a time.  The flow on effect is amazing.   Morale is improved as is self esteem. Ensuring  success in one battle gives the client confidence to move forward with purpose and intent.  

I believe that with this strategy we will be in a much stronger position to assist all those Private Ryans around the world who are tired of fighting their personal wars on many fronts. By encouraging them to take one beachhead at a time, they can enjoy the many small successes and gains along the way and celebrate the big victories.