Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg
If you were a leader in or around the village of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July 1863, your blind spots likely got people killed.
We like to think of blind spots as a modern phenomenon, but they’re a part of the human condition and have been with us for as long as we’ve walked this planet. This reality was driven home for the members of our Vistage group when we held a staff “ride along” with the U.S. Army War College at the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Colonel Rick “Lunchbox” Sheffe, USAF, was our guide for the day and brought the leadership lessons from Gettysburg’s bloody Civil War engagement alive. When people think broadly about historical battles, they think mostly about casualties, maneuvers, actions taken, and how the engagement unfolded. Even more significant, though, are the personalities of the leaders on both sides. How did they think? Were they ambitious? Who did they trust, and what were their agendas?
I asked Colonel Sheffe about the players and what a modern leader might learn from the Battle at Gettysburg.
Here’s what he said.
In Vistage, we often discuss the current challenges of the day—at both the macro and the micro level. Just as rewarding, however, is looking back at history to examine the true consequences of blind spots and learn from past leaders’ actions so that we can make better decisions today.
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Chad Harvey (00:05): Chad Harvey here on the Gettysburg Battlefield with Colonel Sheffe from the US Army War College, we’re having a great day. Colonel, what is the one thing that you think folks need to know, in terms of modern leadership, that they can learn from the Gettysburg engagement?
Col Rick “Lunchbox” Sheffe (00:19): Yeah. Well first off, I’ll tell you, like I told you guys already today, the lessons that can be learned here about from those guys, some were amazing leaders, some struggle, can relate to so many things that we do, whether you’re in a small business, whether you’re in a large organization, whether you’re in a government organization or a private. And so it’s always worth, even if you can’t come here to study those leaders in that context. But I would say the biggest thing I like to talk about is, these leaders were dealing with a situation where they had very, very incomplete information. Where in a very new environment for some of them. And to some extent, had a lot of holes to fill, to develop a situation that was ultimately going to be a major, major impact, at least on our American history. And they had to do it.
So the big thing I like to point out is, how our leaders in whatever organization we’re talking about, number one, seeing their blind spots in what they’re seeing? And number two, how are they being creative in filling those blind spots to make sure they have a better picture given their current circumstances?
Chad Harvey (01:26): So blind spots, not a modern phenomenon?
Col Rick “Lunchbox” Sheffe (01:28): Not at all.
Chad Harvey (01:30): Thanks for your time.
Col Rick “Lunchbox” Sheffe (01:31): No problem. It’s been a fun time.