“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

                    Winston Churchill

“I’ll pour it on, and then those ba$*@rd$ will come begging for a deal,” thunders Sonny Corleone when the enemy stop fighting fire with fire during the Five Families War. Sonny is the acting head of the Corleone Family, for bullet wounds have forced his father, Don Corleone, out of action.

Tom Hagen, the consigliere or chief advisor, hates Sonny’s tactics of massacring dozens of low level enemy operatives because he believes this won’t win them the war. And because these tactics degrade into a war of attrition with both sides losing men and money in no small measure. 

Hagen, however, stops short of reporting this to Don Corleone because the enemy stop responding after a while. Initially Hagen takes this as the lull before the storm, but, later, thinks the bloodbath has unnerved the enemy.  

“But the enemy was making its plans . . . .” Alas, Hagen’s nightmare comes true. The enemy knows the only way to prevent total defeat is to kill Sonny. Tactfully, they slay him, as we have seen in the previous article, Lessons from The Godfather: Angry Decisions Invite Disasters.

Instead of butchering a thousand small fish in retaliation, they assassinate the one big fish, the bloodthirsty tiger shark and win the war, or almost. But it is not the enemy alone who employs these tactics.

Even before circumstances compel Michael to join the “family business,” he demonstrates such strategic genius by refusing to press charges against Police Captain Mark McCluskey. The captain violently smashes his face when he foils the captain’s scheme to get Don Corleone murdered in the hospital by arresting the Don’s bodyguards.

Virgil Sollozo, the drug dealer, has paid the captain handsomely for setting up the don. The captain and Sollozo mistake Michael for a softie because he doesn’t file charges. So much so, they ask him to represent the Corleone Family at negotiations a few days later. A fatal error. At this meeting, Michael shoots dead both these unsuspecting guys.

Pressing charges would have seen the captain get away lightly with nothing more than a light, virtually pretentious, slap on the wrist.

Like any great artist, Michael saves his best for the last. After Sonny’s killing, the Don rises from his sick bed and sues for peace. This costs the family its top position. Michael takes over the family mantle.

Quite deliberately, he does not react to the enemy pushing deep into his realm even though his caporegimes, or regiment captains, protest strongly. Then, Michael pretends to negotiate with the enemy, knowing well their plan to finish him off at the meeting. Again, they underestimate him and let down their guard.

Precisely, at this juncture, Michael strikes back and takes off the chiefs of two other crime families along with the traitors in his. Again, he ignores the minor battles and emerges victor in the big war, the one that really matters.

Danger: Pyrrhic Victories Ahead, Learn to Ignore  

Management gurus and military commanders often say, “choose your battles.” Well, you heard it. Choose them carefully. For if you respond to every minor provocation, you will never reach your destination. The time and energies you have are essentially limited [1]. To know when to fight and, more importantly, when not to can make a world of difference.

In a Pyrrhic Victory, you win a small battle but so exhaust your resources that you cannot continue to march ahead, the surest way to lose the larger war. Pyrrhus, the Greek king of Epirus, beat the Romans in two battles around 280-279 B.C. [2].

Buoyed, he marched into Italy with his army. Or what remained of it.

For the victories had mounted his losses to unsustainable levels. Worse, he had angered the resource-rich Romans. The war ended with the Romans thrashing Pyrrhus in 275 B.C. Thereafter, he returned home [3].

A famous example of Pyrrhic victory in the business world is the 2001 anti-trust suit involving Microsoft. While the verdict upheld Microsoft’s assertion and disallowed the slicing of the software giant into different entities, it still pronounced the company as a monopoly [4]. And monopolies are subject to a razor sharp legal scrutiny, something that non-monopolies (Microsoft’s competitors) were not [5].

Oh, and by the way, European powers went to the First World War to protect their colonial empires. The Allies won the war but by the end of it European hegemony in international politics was sliding fast. And Europe started losing her colonies, the colonies for which it went to war.

Too far east is west!

Is this Worth It?

Easier said than done, but the simplest way to avoid scoring a Pyrrhic victory is to take your ego out of the equation and ask yourself: Is this battle worth it? Will it open a can of worms? Will it make an immediate victory meaningless by costing you the bigger, more important war?

Try asking yourself. Mirrors don’t lie!

Indrajeetsinh Yadav @ Falcon Words has compiled this article from multiple sources, all of which deliver pearls of wisdom. Write to us at info@falconwords.com or call us at +91-9822052945 for content that reads between the lines.

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  1. https://personalexcellence.co/blog/choose-your-battles/
  2. https://fs.blog/2018/02/winning-battle-losing-war/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhic_War
  4. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/pyrrhicvictory.asp
  5. https://www.computerworld.com/article/2581926/pyrrhic-victory.html

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