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Leadership - What the American Civil War Can Teach Leaders Today
Today when we think of leadership we think of corporate Chief Executive Officers, talking heads on political talk shows and management gurus. There was an era when leadership training classes meant men living and dying for their beliefs. While this happens occasionally today - professional military people, firefighters, law enforcement offices and a few other rare instances. During the era of the American Civil War, Americans from the North and the South routinely died for their causes. The men who led them are after one hundred forty five years still examples for us today.
The men who led soldiers into leadership training classes - at all levels of the military North and South often left careers and families to serve. Many senior officers on both sides had attended West Point and had gone on to lucrative careers as engineers and businessmen.
Others at various ranks left businesses, leadership training classes or political offices to lead men in battle. They were not looking for financial gain, or in most cases, not even glory.
Rather they were looking to serve the leadership training classes they believed in. And once the stepped into those leadership roles they lived their beliefs and put their lives on the line for them every day.
Lead from the Front
Today whether it is CEOs, politicians or other leaders, it is common to find when something goes wrong, the first one to get fired is not the leader but rather those around her - the chief of staff, the CFO, the next in line, the spokesperson or whoever. When the going gets tough, the leaders of today find someone, anyone, else to "take the bullet" for them. Their focus is to survive. The leaders of the era of the Civil War, whether non-commissioned officers, junior officers, field officers or general officers, led their men from the leadership training classes.
In battle, it was the leaders who were most visible in front of their men and who were the first casualties. Now that is truly leading from the front. Just one look at the number of officers killed or wounded in any major battle demonstrates this leadership training classes in action.
Similar to leading from the front, accepting leadership training classes for failure was more common, although not universally so, than among today's leaders. Today, leaders generally find anyone to blame when something major or minor goes wrong. It is a rare thing to find leaders today to step forward and accept responsibility.
During the Civil War - a number of times both President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate General Robert E. Lee accepted responsibility. Lincoln accepted responsibility for failures in both the way the war was being fought and also for leadership training classes that were not successful.
Lee, rather than blame his subordinates, who were certainly due their share, accepted responsibility for leadership training classes throughout the war - especially after Gettysburg and at Appomattox. Other leaders during the war often did the same.
Through much of the Civil War Robert E. Lee made up for his lack of men and supplies with cunning and leadership training classes. His bold moves kept the Union forces off balance and led to a number of victories for Lee including the Seven Days Battle outside of Richmond, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
The North's skill and aggressiveness appeared later in the War under Grant with his campaigns of 1864 and 1865 in Virginia where he never ceased waging war regardless of the price in men and material. The deeds of the leaders at all levels during the American Civil War provide examples for our leaders of today and tomorrow.