Battlefield Lessons Applied to Civilian Life
Someone who spent a lifetime immersed in healthcare leadership, knowing my pastime of military wargaming and simulation, sent me an article which describes a hospital administration “staff ride” across the fields at Gettysburg. I applaud the thought, having wrung lessons about mass casualty incident response from repeated simulations of the Battle of the Bulge. But I caution against a wholesale rush to mimic these attempts.
The writer of the article assumes that everyone knows about Confederate General Ewell’s failure to take the Heights. I think it possibly fool-hardy to take a snapshot of a moment in time and think that one can extrapolate from that some bit of wisdom that can be used in any organization because “leadership” retains the same form in any world. On this particular event involving people from a hospital in Florida, perhaps the fellow conducting the staff ride gave a more complete explanation than did the author who condensed it down to a short article.
The Battle of Gettysburg, by the way, is probably the most intensely study battle in history. YouTube has hours and hours of staff rides conducted by historians and military experts under the aegis of the US Army War College. Equally, there are many tabletop and electronic simulations of the battle through which you can stick you toe into those waters. Reading military history is tremendously worthwhile. Simulations abound. Examples on the European continent, as well as from the Revolutionary War, other battles in the Civil War, and more can be found. Be wary of thinking that you learned something.
In the case of Gettysburg and the article for hospital administrators, I can see at least three or four major items that were or are not considered. First is the degree of desperation present among the Confederates. While it was true that they had just completed a short strong of stunningly successive battles; they were the results of having been out-thought, out-generated and having made fewer critical blunders. Second is that fact that the soldiers were underfed and had marched long distances; that’s in great part why they were in Pennsylvania, the breadbasket of the Union. Third is the fact that their cavalry, their eyes and ears and their most rapid form of advance, was — under Stuart’s direction — absent from the battle. Fourth is the fact that the troops under Ewell’s command who could have taken the Heights had already marched 30 miles to arrive; the early-arriving units suffered significant casualties during massive assaults on Oak Ridge.
Finally, their most audacious leader, the one who units played critical roles in those recent successes, the fellow who led what was known as the foot cavalry, was no longer present to lend and inspirationally direct his men to accomplish those rapid marches. “Stonewall” Jackson had been mortally wounded just before Lee’s move North and his absence was surely measured on the “morale” scorecard. As has been noted, Jackson and Lee worked well together because they were frequently of the same mind; the subordinate responded well to suggestion, and Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville resulted from spartan discussion and a suggestion.
Leadership cannot be discerned in a single moment. Gettysburg is well-studied because, in its early moments, it is an example of a “meeting engagement”, “a combat action that occurs when a moving force, incompletely deployed for battle, engages an enemy at an unexpected time and place.”
A meeting engagement is a dynamic event; it is always changing.
Leadership is not tactics, nor strategy, nor even management. If you want to study management, start with “A Passion for Excellence”. If you want to study strategy, start with a treatise on the art of the indirect approach known simply as “Strategy” and continue on to Sun Tsu and Boyd’s OODA Loop.
There is more here, http://guidestarinc.com/miltary-leadership-skills/, but find a good used copy of the book and spend a companionable day or two with it. Leadership is spelled with a C, he says, and the whole idea of emotional intelligence comes into focus too.
You need not spend a lot of time reading the history of battles past; you are immersed in a massive battle right now. Look around you, and open your eyes.
One’s true capacity for moving,
or being moved, can be achieved
only when one’s commitment to others
is in fact connected to and derived from
his primary commitment to himself.
When we find this kind of alignment of purpose,
there is a harmony of motivation
that can provide the fuel and clarity
to overcome great obstacles
in the pursuit of great challenge.
from The Inner Game of Work, by W. Timothy Gallwey
Wood’s book is summarized on pages 21 through 25 in http://boydownthelane.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Tab-N-Leadership.pdf