Leadership questions from the battlefield: Gettysburg

2017-03-20 14.21.45
The North Carolina Monument on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg

Leadership questions from the battlefield: Gettysburg

by Mark Knox

How is it possible to lead men to likely injury or death, and have them follow you…willingly?

As I hiked across the farmland outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, generally following the path of the men who assaulted the fortified Union position in what has become known as Pickett’s Charge, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of leadership would create such a following. While there is a world of difference between leading men into battle and leading people in the marketplace, there are some factors that apply.

Let’s not forget the strong pull of military rank and order. It’s a hard thing to disobey a direct order. And I suppose in the world of business, leadership by position does have its effect. But if a leader depends on that, it will be an ineffective leading.

Then there’s the value of the “cause.” Everyone will pull together and follow a leader who has a cause to believe in. This will sustain a leader’s influence for a time. But it’s not enough.

I believe that when you break it all down, people will follow a person more than a cause. And there is evidence that Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces that day, had been able to engender an intense personal loyalty from his men. Not only did they march to their peril in support of their leader, they also wanted to “hit them again” after the failed attempt because of their strong belief in their leader. In the marketplace, this happens when leaders believe in and invest in their people.

People might obey a leader’s position; they might persevere for a time when they believe in the cause; but they will be intensely loyal to a leader in whom they believe…and who believes in them.

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