The Fourth of July arrives tomorrow. As a Vietnam veteran my thoughts turn to past and present military personnel who bore arms in defense of this astonishing country we call home. Business has been likened to war, and in the 1990s, there was a movement among business leaders to identify The Art of War by Sun Tzu as the most important business book ever written. This is no small feat given that it was penned more than 2,500 years ago.
Though I’ve never read The Art of War, as a veteran of military service, I can attest to the lessons military discipline and intelligence may provide to the business leader. This column is being penned on the 150th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3), widely acknowledged by historians as the turning point of the Civil War. I came across an article titled, “The Top Three Leadership Lessons From the Battle of Gettysburg” in The Guardian. Author Jeffrey D. McCausland believes that there are leadership lessons to be gleaned from this monumental battle. I concur.
Lesson One: The Importance of Time and Timing Armed with the information that Confederate troops were amassing and making their way toward them, a Union cavalry officer named John Buford recognized the importance of the town’s crossroads and positioned his troops on the best terrain (the high ground). Buford had no time to ask for counsel and no access to text messaging or cellular communication to see what his superiors or others in charge might think. His quick thinking and timing were impeccable. He had no way of knowing that the fate of tens of thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers would be determined by his decision. We in the reverse world are at a critical juncture, or crossroads, as well. Let’s act swiftly and decisively, like Buford, and always take the figurative high ground.
Lesson Two: Effective Leaders Park Their Ego Beloved and brilliant General Robert E. Lee arrived at Gettysburg following decisive victories at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Some historians have suggested that Lee, despite his brilliance as a military tactician, may have suffered from hubris. He believed that the bold army of Northern Virginia could not be defeated and ordered the infamous Pickett’s Charge on July 3. It was an unmitigated disaster for the Confederacy. Every leader in our industry needs to park their ego and give up the belief that our product and our industry are invincible. We must make decisions that are best for our collective well-being and not driven by ego or private interests.
Lesson Three: Effective Leaders Articulate and Communicate a Strategic Vision The story of Gettysburg culminates in November with the delivery of the Gettysburg Address, a speech of less than 300 words that rallied a nation in crisis and mourning and continues to inspire people across the world. Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the greatest leaders in history, acknowledged the enormity of the people’s loss and their grief, recognized their sacrifice and shared his vision of the nation’s future as “a new birth of freedom.” If we are going to be effective leaders for our industry, we have to be willing and able to articulate, communicate and share a collective strategic vision for its future.
We have the privilege of living in this great gift of a country and working in an industry that celebrates and facilitates freedom. Lincoln knew that there was so much more that united Americans than divided us. As industry leaders, let’s commit to learning and living the lessons of Gettysburg. There is so much more that unites rather than divides us. Let’s never look for a war with others, or worse yet, among ourselves.