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November 1, 2006

Lessons From Gettysburg Resonate Today

“Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what men’s faces looked like. In order to live it, he had to write it.”

 

Recently, I was fortunate to be invited, along with a small group of business leaders, to participate in a seminar on Gettysburg sponsored by the U.S. Army War College. Although I have always thought of myself as a student of history, I was humbled by how little I knew of the behavioral underpinnings of the men who fought on that battleground during those three days in the summer of 1863.

Several leadership lessons quickly emerged as I walked the battlefield that day. Listening to scholars discuss the strategies, tactics and emotions of Gettysburg as seen through the viewpoints of the generals who fought there was informative, moving, gut-wrenching and cause for self-examination of my own leadership style. The successes and failures at Gettysburg were—like our successes and failures today—the result of leaders acting and reacting to what they knew to be true and what they thought to be true, combined with personal conviction. That mix created the battlefield reality as the generals saw it.

Much can be learned and applied to the metals industry and MSCI today from studying Gettysburg.

Communications. Why did very little direction from Generals Meade and Lee work with some generals and not others? Why did they assume their intent was clearly understood by all, when in fact it wasn’t? Why were they able to stay focused on strategic issues with some generals, while with others, they drifted into micro-management? Why was information sometimes ignored? Why were some decisions made collaboratively, with many generals providing input, while others were made in the absence of diverse opinion and thinking?

Logistics. Why did Lee’s supply-chain inefficiencies leave him no other option than to order General Pickett’s charge? Why were manufacturing capabilities and transportation efficiencies arguably as important as brilliant strategy?

Leadership. Why were some leaders so respected that men would do anything for them, and others so detested that men would simply follow for fear of court martial? Why were some men so effective under pressure and stress, while others couldn’t hold up? Why did some leaders have passion and others not?

I share these to demonstrate the importance of manufacturing in our economy, the importance of passionate and compassionate leadership, and the importance of aligning individuals behind a vision that compels them to accomplish what no one individual can achieve alone.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point of the Civil War. It ended with 51,000 casualties, the most of any land engagement on U.S. soil. It proved to be disastrous for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But why did highly trained and experienced generals on both sides make so many mistakes there?

Stephen Crane’s need to “be there” notwithstanding, it is my wish that you never have to experience the horrors or losses of battle to absorb the leadership lessons that Gettysburg illustrates. As we go about our daily business, working to better our companies and build prosperity for all who count on us, let’s resolve to use our time and resources wisely, effectively and competitively, yet also, through MSCI, collaboratively to achieve together what we cannot individually.

I wish you peace in the holiday season, and health and prosperity in the New Year.