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"Never Interrupt Your Enemy from Making a Mistake": Karma in Action

Have you ever heard the saying, “Never interrupt your enemy when s/he is making a mistake”? This advice, often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, isn't just about kicking back and enjoying the show as your rival fails. Nor should we reference it as karma in action, although doing so can often feel "schadenfreude, " a German word used to describe the feeling of satisfaction derived from seeing someone else justly fail. In his blog, we’re going to dive into this phrase from the perspective of a valuable lesson in strategic leadership: how you can turn your enemy’s mistakes into your stepping stones—karma style!



While the tendency is to take such a phrase at face value, the effective leader will seek to find deeper understanding and meaning than simply the obvious. At its core, the phrase emphasizes the values of patience and keen observation and requires a deep understanding of both your opponent's intentions and the broader implications to be had. Patience here is not passive; it is a calculated recognition that sometimes the most potent action is, in fact, inaction, and through such, several critical leadership qualities start to develop:


1. Strategic Patience: In leadership, cultivating patience is essential—it teaches us to hold back impulsive reactions, allowing for a full assessment of situations. This restraint can mean the difference between seizing a fleeting advantage and developing a decisive, sustainable edge.

2. Analytical Thinking: Leaders must develop a robust analytical mindset, constantly evaluating the landscape for potential missteps by competitors. This not only involves understanding the present, but also forecasting potential future challenges and opportunities.

3. Emphasis on Insight and Foresight: Understanding the underlying dynamics that drive events or behaviors is crucial. This deep knowledge of the competitive environment enables leaders to leverage opportunities when competitors falter.

4. Calmness Under Pressure: Maintaining composure during crises allows leaders to think clearly and guide their teams away from hasty decisions that could inadvertently resolve an opponent’s mistake.

5. Effective Communication: It is crucial for leaders to articulate their strategic visions clearly, ensuring team alignment with the broader goals and instructing them on the importance of strategic timing.

6. Discipline in Execution: Once a strategic decision is made, it must be executed consistently and systematically, maintaining discipline, even under pressure to act hastily.

7. Learning from Observations: Adopting a learning mindset helps leaders and their teams refine strategies and responses based on ongoing observations and experiences in the field.

8. Ethical Considerations and Integrity: True leadership requires that actions not only be strategically sound but also ethically robust, balancing the pursuit of advantage with the broader impacts on society and individuals.


Despite its strategic value, many of us cannot resist the urge to feel "schadenfreude", nor would I shame a person for it. I'm certain we have all experienced a tyrant colleague or manager, and sometimes Karma gives us a seat at the table to watch as they get what we feel they have coming. However, as this becomes a normalized behavior, we as leaders close ourselves off from greater personal development and deeper meaning in the following ways:


  • Cynicism and Opportunism: Promoting a focus on exploiting others' failures, overshadowing the potential for constructive engagement.

  • Lack of Proactivity: Endorsing passivity, overlooking the importance of proactive, innovative, and problem-solving approaches.

  • Ethical Concerns: In sectors that prioritize the well-being of individuals, like healthcare or education, exploiting mistakes could appear unethical or callous.

  • Promotion of Hostility: Emphasizing an "enemy" perspective might undermine necessary cooperation and teamwork, especially in environments that thrive on collaboration.

  • Risk of Misjudgment: The belief that one can always identify and understand an opponent’s errors may lead to miscalculations and strategic missteps.

  • Reputation Risks: No consideration for broader implications might negatively impact a leader's reputation and the trust others place in them.


"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake" offers a lens through which to view and approach challenges that consider patience, insight, and strategic acumen. However, it also serves as a reminder of the responsibilities that accompany leadership—the need to act thoughtfully, ethically, and with foresight. Understanding and interpreting this aphorism within the context of its deeper implications can inspire leaders to develop qualities that not only enhance their strategic capabilities but also foster integrity, respect, and long-term success. This blend of strategic acumen and ethical leadership is what truly defines great leaders, and keeps you from being the person others will want to sit back and watch mess up!

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