Lessons In Leadership: The Canadian Legacy of Vimy Ridge
Updated: Feb 10
In April of 2017, I had the incredible honour of attending the commemorative celebration marking 100 years since the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. It’s difficult to put into words the mix of emotions that come wit
h this place. To reflect on Vimy, as a Canadian, is to feel both pride and deep sorrow; a great achievement, with a price that was costly paid. For me, these emotions merge together to form a sense of eternal gratitude.
To live in Canada is to live free. I truly believe that when we make the most of this freedom -through enterprise and through self-improvement - we honour the gift that was bestowed to us by our Canadian soldiers, some 100 years ago and many times since. Below is a reflection of how we, as working Canadians, can show our patriotism by heeding the leadership lessons that created the framework of this historic event.
1. Don’t be afraid to stand up and make your mark
Canada joined the war as part of the British Commonwealth, but we fought as our own country. The decision for Canada to fight independent of the British Army was risky; our military experience was limited and the vast majority of our infantry were volunteers. However, our independence in WWI is part of what led the victory at Vimy to becoming one of Canada's foremost "coming-of-age" stories. Had the Canadian troops been led solely by British Generals, the outcome of April 9th may well have ended in another failed attempt to reclaim The Ridge.
Don't be afraid to risk going out on your own; a new team with new ideas can write a new story!
2. Take the time to practice, plan and prepare
Sir Arthur Currie had minimal military experience before entering WWI. Yet from the time he earned his rank as Brigade Command, his attention to detail and preparation for his men did not go unnoticed. As Major General and Commander of the 1st Division at Vimy, his insistence on practicing every detail of the attack was effective, albeit unusual. Although he was accused of being more stoic than charismatic, he desperately wanted to minimize the loss of life for his troops. It was this dedication in preparing for battle that led the Canadians to their success at Vimy.
Do the work; adequate preparation never goes to waste when moving towards success.
3. Get everyone on the same page
Every single Canadian soldier had a map of Vimy Ridge, outlining the plan of attack on the day of battle. In all other allied troops, only the commanding officers were privileged with this kind of detailed information for fear of it falling into enemy hands. By giving every soldier his own map, confidence and trust was instilled throughout the regiments. It also meant that everyone knew the game plan, clearly and without confusion; another key factor in securing victory that day.
Build trust and avoid communication breakdown, by giving everyone on your team the full picture & access to the plan.
4. One success can turn the tide
The attack on Vimy Ridge was only a small part of the larger battle of Arras. Although the battle as a whole was unsuccessful, the taking of Vimy Ridge was enough of a morale boost to give the allies an increased sense of purpose which, many historians say, led to them winning the war. After many failed attempts by the allies, Canada had reclaimed the Ridge!
Celebrate all successes! Great or small - you never know what they may lead to next.
5. Never forget those whose efforts lead to your accomplishments
The battle of the Sommes, which took place only 10 months prior to the attack on Vimy, was the greatest loss of life for the soldiers of Canada and the allied troops. However, as significant as these casualties were, they were not made in vain. The multitude of disasters, including miscommunication among the ranks, poor planning & faulty logistics, were all addressed and corrected in preparation for the attack on Vimy Ridge.
Humble yourself to learn from others' mistakes and recognize where their failures led to your success
As a nation, we all benefit from the sacrifice that was made on April 9, 1917. The simple fact that we can rise with the sun and determine the outcome of our day is a tribute to the lives that were given.
Living a life of privilege and freedom, we have a responsibility to recognize and honour the cost of that freedom. We do this by living up to our greatest potential. To lead others is also part of that responsibility. And to do so with care and protection of the people we lead is what we hope all leaders bring to the table.