As we approach this Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, we should recall that it was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
However, it was the Gettysburg Battle that occurred July 1-3, 1863 that was the impetus for Memorial Day due to so many Confederate and Union Army dead that emotionally impacted our entire nation. Neither side expected that the massive battle that followed would be the largest, most lethal conflict of that four-year war.
Out of this horrible engagement, we can try to apply some of what was borne of that battle to our daily work and leadership skills today. Not that we would expect too much for our workplace much by studying Generals Meade and Lee and their armies, their strategies and tactics, but we can develop a plan and blueprint for greater success when it comes to leadership skills.
Some correlating thoughts 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 political changes even before we know exactly what they will be and how they’ll affect us. Fixed emplacements are often lost. 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. Listen to your people!
4. Both Army leaders made great decisions and strategic errors. That happens in every enterprise, ever endeavor. The strongest leaders admit when their plans fall short, learn from their errors, and move forward. There is no “magic” position on the battlefield which will guarantee a commander’s decisions are correct.
5. Four months after the Gettysburg Battle, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. If you have ever read or heard this beautiful speech, we should be moved by the simplicity of what Lincoln said and the wisdom and humility of the President’s remarks. The best words are to the point and honest. Simplicity and clarity rule when it comes to leadership communications.
May your Memorial Day weekend be one of reverence in relaxation, and that you return to work next week with something gained from the lessons learned out of the Gettysburg Battle.