Leadership program inspired by battle of Gettysburg
Withstanding the steely glares of the bosses in a boardroom might not seem like withstanding an iron hail of Confederate cannon fire, but a University of Maryland program is using the battle of Gettysburg to provide leadership lessons to modern executives.
A new partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the Gettysburg Foundation is using notable figures like Gen. Robert E. Lee, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and Col. Joshua Chamberlain to demonstrate different approaches to leadership, communication, accountability and teamwork gleaned from the turning point of the Civil War, said Greg Hanifee, executive director of executive programs at Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Combining the foundation's knowledge of the battlefield and its history with the university's analysis of psychology, communication and business allowed the partnership to develop profiles of major figures in the battle and their leadership styles. The program can tailor lessons to the needs of individual corporations, Hanifee said.
"It was really cool, because we could build these profiles and see what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses," said Jeff Kudisch, managing director of career services at the Smith school. "When Meade pulled his team together to plan what to do on the second day and the third day, it was really about consensus. We didn't see that with Lee."
For example, on the first day of the three-day battle in July, 1863, Lee told a subordinate, Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, to attack the Union's position on Cemetery Hill "if practicable." The order left the decision up to Ewell. He didn't attack — so the Confederates' poor communication left the Union in a stronger position and swung the battle in its favor, Kudisch said.
"Robert E. Lee had a very direct style of communication: He thought that everyone should be able to understand what he said," Hanifee said. "So we have to consider as leaders, if I tell everyone exactly what they should be doing and walk away, what could happen• How could I do things differently?"
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Lee, Kudisch said, was Chamberlain, who commanded Union troops who held off the Confederate attack at Little Round Top on the second day, despite taking command of weary soldiers and subordinates who had been ready to stand down.
"Chamberlain was the one who stood out to me because of his effectiveness as a leader, his ability to rally the troops," said Gary Brown, an executive vice president at Crofton, Md.-based Force 3 Inc. and part of the first group to go through the program this summer. Chamberlain seemed to gain his subordinates' trust quickly and convince them to stand strong. His lessons about opening up, encouraging communication and building trust stuck with Brown.
"What seemed to be an impossibility for him turned out to be a success," Brown said. "At the end of the program, they gave me a portrait of Chamberlain, and I got it framed and took it home."