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Battlefield Lessons at Work

I just spent a memorable two days walking the Gettysburg battlefield attending The Conference Board’s Leadership Development Experiential Program.  Our group, drawn from several organizations, read and studied before we met; we received incisive battlefield histories delivered by Tony NiCastro, a military historian.  Dick Richardson, Jeff Jackson, and David Hutchens, all from Experience to Lead, facilitated our sessions.
The Gettysburg Battle occurred July 1-3, 1863 as Confederate forces moved in to Pennsylvania to face the Union army. Neither side expected that the massive battle that followed would be the largest, most lethal conflict of a four-year war. As we broke into groups at key battlefield sites, we tried to apply what we learned to our daily work. We’d have expected too much if we thought that by studying Generals Meade and Lee and their teams, we’d have a sure fire blueprint for success.

But here are thoughts I had about workplace leadership:

  1. Just as the Gettysburg leaders faced unexpected logistical, staffing, and other challenges, we have to be ready to deal with economic, social, technological and global changes even before we know exactly what they will be and how they’ll affect us. Adaptability beats rigidity in war and at work.
  2. Leaders must make some decisions and delegate others. The challenge is to figure out which to keep and which to let others handle. Directions must be clearly communicated and repeated often. A lack of clarity spells disaster.
  3. Leaders must rely on their teams for information and recommendations. The key is to make sure those on the front lines are trustworthy and devoted to the mission as opposed to their own success.
  4. Both Army leaders made great decisions and strategic errors. That happens in every enterprise. The strongest leaders admit when their plans fall short, learn from their errors, and move forward.
  5. Our tour concluded at the Gettysburg Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. As I heard it read by one of the participants, I was moved by the simplicity of what he said and the wisdom and humility of President Lincoln’s remarks. The best words are to the point and honest.

My thanks to The Conference Board for arranging this trip and providing an extraordinary learning experience.
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