Where’s Your Team? A Tale Of Two Leaders

There are no ifs, ands, or buts in today’s world…leaders have to be learners.  And not just learners, but the lead learners in their organization.  They have to model the way.  It is their duty to not only set the vision, but to chart the course and illuminate the path.  To be alert and tuned-in, constantly seeking and sifting out the nuggets of knowledge that are floating through a variety of media streams.  Keying in on those pieces that are valuable for moving their learning and the learning of the organization forward.

To be capacity-builders, leaders must be readers.  Always questioning…always searching.  Willing to take a stand against the status quo…knowing that current circumstances are never enough, never as good as it could be.  Always considering the possibilities.  Determined to lead others to places they have not only not traveled, but haven’t even considered.

Yet, they are still grounded and not easily fooled.  They understand that It that it doesn’t just happen by unfurling a grand vision, rather it takes a whole lot of grit, persistence, and determination.  It can and will be difficult work.  It will often be fraught with more frustration than with storied tales of success.  Today’s victory is very often tomorrow’s flop.  And yet, it is how we handle each of these situations that determines and builds our character and integrity as leaders.

As modern day leaders remain vigilant to current learnings to face tomorrow’s challenges…they must also remain conscious of the past.  Leadership lessons from history provide prevalent insights to the concerns and crisis we face in our current situations.  Engaging in the study of leadership serves as a bridge to increased understanding and wisdom.  A strong grasp of the history of leadership can provide tremendous enlightenment…enlightenment that serves our own leadership in the current and for the future.

Many of the leadership problems we face today are no different than what many leaders faced a hundred or even a thousand years ago.  The issues remain the same, only the times and the circumstances change.  Which makes a study of the past that much more important to today…

As an example…reflecting on the Battle of Gettysburg provides us with a plethora of leadership lessons that affect our current organizations.  Gettysburg overflows with these lessons.  Such as the lessons that revolve around a tale of two leaders.  One to the North and one to the South.  A tale of leadership decisions that affected thousands of lives over three horrific days in the summer of 1863.  And how those fateful decisions provide leadership learning 125 years later…

In July of 1863, Major General Meade and General Lee stood as opposing forces on the fields at Gettysburg.  General Lee arrived at the scene with a strong sense of confidence, he was moving effectively and swiftly through the Northern forces that opposed him and his troops.  On the other side, General Meade, newly appointed to his position by President Lincoln with marching orders to defeat Lee and his forces which had been rolling through current attempts from the North to quell and conquer the South.  While many decisions made during those three fateful days affected the overall outcome of the battle…a focus on their decision-making mindsets of those two leaders weighs as a factor for improving current organizational leadership.

As stated previously, Lee arrived in Gettysburg with an abundance of confidence.  You might even say an overconfidence.  However, matters were different in Gettysburg, Lee was missing his Calvary Chief leaving him without crucial and accurate intelligence necessary for making well-informed decisions.  Lee was also unwilling to rely on the feedback of his subordinates.  So, while there was a long list of mistakes that eventually led to his defeat at Gettysburg, a lack of information, coupled with overconfidence and unwillingness to listen to and use his subordinates effectively led to his downfall.  Lee had taken on a ‘go it alone’ leadership mindset.

To the North, we have the newly appointed General Meade.  Meade had an entirely different leadership approach and mindset.  Meade enlisted a collaborative approach, pulling together a ‘council of war’ to garner the feedback of his subordinates.  It was here that Meade built consensus and gave those he led the voice and authority necessary to be successful at Gettysburg.  Meade, with his ‘council of war’ and collaborative mindset showed he understood the importance and necessity for forming a ‘guiding coalition’ if they were to be successful.

While Meade took on a collaborative mindset and refrained from allowing ego and pride to interfere with the decision-making process…Lee’s overconfidence, impatience, and unwillingness to include others, coupled with a ‘lone ranger’ mindset effectively led to his demise and eventual retreat at Gettysburg.

Meade had been thrust into a difficult position and was facing overwhelming odds.  Yet, he understood the necessity for a strong guiding coalition if they were to survive and overcome at Gettysburg.  According to John Kotter in his book Leading Change“a strong guiding coalition is always needed – one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective.  Building such a team is always an essential part of the early stages of any effort…”

So how do the lessons of Lee and Meade affect us in today’s world of leadership?  As we reference Kotter, we learn that…“today’s environment clearly demands a new process of decision making.  In a rapidly moving world, individuals and weak committees rarely have all the information needed to make good non routine decisions.  Nor do they seem to have the credibility or the time required to convince others to make the personal sacrifices called for in implementing changes.  Only teams with the right composition and sufficient trust among members can be highly effective under these new circumstances.”  Kotter goes on to say that…“a guiding coalition that operates as an effective team can process more information, more quickly.  It can also speed the implementation of new approaches because powerful people are truly informed and committed to key decisions.” 

In Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, DuFour, DuFour and Eaker highlight the importance of building consensus…“Mistake #1: Leaders Attempt to Go It Alone.”  The authors note Jim Collins work “the leaders who ignited transformation from good to great, first got the right people on the bus…they built a superior leadership team.”

Eventually when a leader tries to ‘go it alone’ they will finally hit a brick wall.  No one leader can do it all.  Putting together the right people, building dispersed leadership, creating a ‘guiding coalition’ will allow a leader to build trust, communicate better, and eventually be more effective and influential.  It requires the leader to let go of ego and do what’s best for the organization and those they lead.  Real, authentic leaders create other leaders and understand the importance of team.  The importance of a ‘guiding coalition’.


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