The Battle of Antietam: an interview with Tom Vossler

Colonel Tom Vossler has long been the lead historian of Diamond6 TVossler_Headshot_2016Leadership. He has taken many of our groups through various Civil War battlefields, providing a historical playing field in which to discuss important leadership lessons.

In the past he has teamed up with Carol Reardon, the George Winfree Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University, to write a history of the Battle of Gettysburg—A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. They have a1rjerl95mlcome together once again to write A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People.

Diamond6 sat down with Col. Vossler to discuss Antietam, its place in Civil War history, and its leadership lessons. September 17 will be the battle’s 154th anniversary.

Why is Antietam important in the context of the Civil War?

This campaign, this battle, is part of a larger picture called the Maryland Campaign of 1862. There has been a string of Confederate victories as they cross the Potomac to begin this new campaign. What is also important to note is that while the Maryland Campaign is being fought, out west there’s a Confederate campaign for the invasion of Kentucky.

These are two simultaneous Confederate advances into two border states, Kentucky and Maryland. From a political and military strategic standpoint, we must remember that President Lincoln said he must have Kentucky or else he would lose its support.

This battle forces the Confederacy back, which is why this battle is so important. The incursion into the border states is turned back by Union forces.

What are four key moments that turn the tide in this battle?

First, this battle takes place on September 17, following the South Mountain battles, which really disrupted Lee’s plans to invade Pennsylvania. He doesn’t make it that far. Meanwhile, General McClellan, the Union commander, could’ve attacked on September 16, but delayed one full day to get his forces ready. But if you flip that coin, that affords Lee another 24 hours in which to get his forces to the battlefield.

The second moment also has to do with McClellan. During the battle, there is an opportunity for him to commit his reserves to a weak point in the Confederate line, but he hesitates and then doesn’t follow through. He fears if he commits his reserve forces, he won’t have any later. That could have split the Confederate defense. Instead it stays in place and frustrates his movements.

The third key moment is the failure of General Ambrose Burnside to make his attack across the lower bridge. There are three bridges—the upper, the middle, the lower—and his forces were at the lower bridge. He had repeated orders to get across the Antietam to attack the Confederate force on the other side of the creek. He delays, and his delay eats up several hours in the battle. This then ties into that fourth moment.

Number four is the timely arrival of an entire Confederate division commanded by General A.P. Hill. They have forced march from Harper’s Ferry, which the Confederates had captured earlier, and arrived on the battlefield just in time to turn back the advance of the Burnside’s 9th Corps.

There is no clear victor in this. From a larger overview, a strategic and operational overview, what is gained is that Lee’s army is forced out of Maryland and the Potomac River Line is restored.

After the battle, what changes do we see in the Union and Confederate leadership?

In the days and weeks after the battle, President Lincoln goes to Antietam to inquire of General McClellan why he has not followed Lee across the river into Virginia. McClellan essentially sits there with his command. He does not go after Lee, and this frustrates President Lincoln. The end result of McClellan’s delay is Lincoln relieves him of command and appoints a new commander. This leads to a continual roll over of leadership. By the time we get to Gettysburg, none of the higher level Union leadership remains.

The same thing happens in the Confederate Army. They lose a number of key leaders when they reorganize the army. They reorganize in a positive way. The replacement of the leadership leads to a slew of powerful victories.

The leadership question is what fascinates me most about Antietam—figuring out where the leaders who were at Gettysburg were at Antietam.

How then does this battle relate to today’s leaders?

What we’re talking about is the growth of leaders and the sorting out of those less capable. They’re not rising to the top anymore. They’re staying in the same position or getting washed out of the organization. The leadership over time gets better. You can watch this happen from First Bull Run, the first major land battle of the Civil War, as they progress through the war.

For today’s leaders that translates into organizational effectiveness, whether we’re talking about a school district or a corporation. At Diamond6, we’re striving to make them effective organizations through the development of their leadership. These leaders in the army, like in any organization, wherever they are they’re being developed and creating a succession of command. Every organization must think about what they’re doing to allow their leadership to mature and grow. That concept is thoroughly explored at Antietam.

Click here to purchase A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People.

 

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

A new turn of phrase has infected the Diamond6 office: “Is the juice worth lemon-your-hand-cut-citrus-squeezing-drop-white-background-54396239the squeeze?”

CEO and founder of D6 Dr. Jeff McCausland began asking the question during staff meetings, and it is something that all employees have started to consider. Essentially, it boils down to the following concept: is the end result or reward worth the time and energy required to accomplish a task? Is what we are doing consistent with our mission, vision, and values particularly if it is going to demand considerable effort and resources?

This is a fundamental question that a leader must ask him/herself every day.

When Dr. McCausland teaches his Gettysburg seminar that discusses the leadership principles learned on one of the largest battlefields of the Civil War, he focuses a fair amount on the idea of innovation. One of those innovations he focuses on is the development of “triage” by American surgeon Dr. Jonathan Letterman.

This 19th century doctor organized injuries into different categories depending on the severity of their injuries: those who couldn’t be helped, those in immediate need of care, and those whose wounds did not put them in immediate danger. Triage is still used to this day during events that involve mass casualty. Emergency medical personnel would have used triage in dealing with casualties at the Boston Marathon bombing or the shooting in Orlando.

Most modern leaders rarely face life-or-death situations, but they must organize their teams to confront organizational problems similarly. At times, we are faced with issues that we can invest all of our time, energy, and resources to, but in the end we are just treading water.

It is at these moments that leaders know to focus on difficulties or complexities that they can resolve, begin to undertake, or are fundamental to what their organization is about. Meanwhile, they must rid themselves of the unsolvable and either relegate the minor problems to a subordinate or push it to a later date when they have time to address it.

Time management is a key characteristic of a good leader.

So the next time you look to conquer your own personal battlefield, take a moment and ask yourself: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” You may quickly realize that the task you have dedicated yourself to wasn’t worth the few drops of liquid swimming around the bottom of your glass.

The Critical Importance of Mentors

mentoringI have always known that my success in the military and since was due in large measure to several mentors who provided me critical assistance throughout my life. If you are blessed with a mentor, you know that he or she is only a phone call away despite the fact that you might not see each other for several years. I could always call my mentors day or night to seek their advice and assistance.

But what exactly is “mentoring” and why is it important? Mentoring has been described as a dynamic relationship in which a more experienced person (the mentor) acts as a guide, role model, teacher, and sponsor of a less experienced person (the mentee). It is based on several distinct elements including:

  • Reciprocity, collegiality, authenticity, and mutuality.
  • Intentional role modeling
  • A “safe harbor” for self-exploration (disclosure)
  • Transformation particularly of the mentee’s professional identity.
  • A connection that endures.

The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of 1,250 top executives as listed in The Wall Street Journal. It discovered that 65 percent had at least one important mentor. Furthermore, the analysis suggested that executives with mentors had higher salaries, more rapid promotions, greater achievement of career objectives, and higher overall job and life satisfaction. It has also been discovered that organizations with a culture of mentorship have lower attrition rates.

Through this relationship, mentees seek better job performance that may include more involvement in professional organizations. They also want help with networking, job opportunities, and finding greater satisfaction in the organization they are part of. Over time they will likely want assistance in achieving a stronger sense of professional identity, more productivity, and having a greater impact.

I would argue that having a mentor and eventually becoming a mentor is particularly important for those who are members of one of the following professions – the military, medicine, education, the clergy, the media, or law enforcement (lawyers, judges, and police). Such occupations are focused on the continued development of the abstract knowledge associated with the profession and the critical service it provides society. Consequently, the development of the next generation in the profession is a critical requirement. I was amazed how quickly I found other younger officers seeking my advice and counsel as I progressed through my career, and I am confident that most teachers, doctors, lawyers, ministers, journalists, and policemen have had the same experience.

Effective mentors must, first and foremost, take the time to get to know the mentee. Spend the time to learn their strengths and weaknesses as well as their goals. In doing so the mentor must “affirm” the path the mentee is taking while gently shaping as well as redirecting them away from unrealistic aspirations. The mentor is both a teacher and a coach. He or she must look for “teaching moments” during their time with the mentee and, if working in the same organization, demystify the “system” for the mentee while providing the “lay of the land.” The mentor must be prepared to offer counsel in difficulty times but challenge the mentee in order to stimulate their growth. When appropriate, the mentor should actively sponsor the mentee and hopefully match opportunities with their “dreams.” This may also be part of pointing out milestones and successes to the mentee while helping them to objectively step back and appreciate their own progress. Finally, an effective mentor has to be humble and have patience. He or she must be open to feedback particularly as the mentee matures. Nobody wants a “perfect” mentor. Humble mentors model their own fallibility. Important qualities for effective mentors include patience and high-quality emotional intelligence.

Good leaders are not only effective mentors but also seek to create a mentoring culture in their organization. This is difficult to do but essential nonetheless. Leaders must continually stress its importance and how it is closely related to the organization’s mission, vision, and values. It may also require not only traditional mentoring but also peer and team mentorship. An effective program will seek to select mentors carefully, train/support them, prepare mentees, and assess/reward mentors for their efforts. It should also be a topic during annual performance review discussions, and many organizations conduct annual surveys in order to ascertain the level of satisfaction and experience with mentoring. Finally, it should be part of all exit interviews when a member of the organization is departing.

Being a mentor is crucial to the success of any organization, and I would argue a professional responsibility. An expert on mentoring described it as “the seal of approval.” He further observed, “to have a mentor is to be among the blessed. Not to have a mentor is to be damned to eternal oblivion or at least to a mid-level status.”

Furthermore, we would all be wise to remember the words of the author, Robert Louis Stevenson:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;

Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has left the world better than he found it;
Who has looked for the best in others and given the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration,
Whose memory is a benediction.

Stevenson was clearly describing a mentor. I know because having mentors has been invaluable to me, and I only hope that I have fulfilled my responsibility of being a mentor to others along the way.

Leadership Lessons from the Alamo

Leadership Lessons from the AlamoAlamoBattlePaintingTexasStateLibraryNArchives

The Alamo fell after a 13-day siege March 6, 1836 — 180 years ago this month. All of the defenders were killed, though many historians believe that a few survived the fighting and were later executed on the order of General Santa Anna. These included Jim Bowie, William Travis, and Davy Crockett. The total number of Mexican casualties is unknown. Santa Anna claimed only 70 of his men were killed, but there are a number of accounts by other soldiers and inhabitants of the city that suggest over 400 were killed in the fighting. Susanna Dickinson (the wife of an Alamo defender), her infant daughter, as well as Colonel Travis’ slave Joe survived and were released by Santa Anna.

There are numerous leadership lessons/insights that can be taken from the siege and battle but let me provide five:

The importance of the leader’s vision. Every organization needs a vision that defines where the organization is going. One of the most important tasks of any leader is not only to articulate his/her vision but also to emphasize it when speaking to the members of his/her team. An effective vision must provide clarity of purpose and be communicable, comprehensive, and transformational.

Stephen Austin is in many ways the father of Texas. He arrived in 1822 and accepted a land grant from the Mexican government. He fulfilled the requirements to become a Mexican citizen and guaranteed the same for the other immigrants that accompanied him. Over the next decade he would encourage other Americans to settle in Texas and would become a leader of independence. Later in his life Austin would say:

“The greatest consolation I ever expect to derive from my labors in the wilderness of this province will arise from the conviction that I have benefitted many of my fellow beings, and laid the foundation for the settlement of one of the finest countries in the world.”

How do you identify future leaders? This is a real challenge for any leader. The leaders at the Alamo and for the entire Texas revolution were somewhat surprising. Jim Bowie had been accused of being a land swindler and being involved in the slave trade. It is alleged that he was a friend of Jean Lafitte’s — the pirate! William Travis had abandoned his wife in Alabama and fled to Texas. She would later follow to divorce him. Davy Crockett was a famous frontiersman and Congressman, but prior to coming to Texas in 1836 Crockett would lose a reelection campaign. Prior to leaving Tennessee, he allegedly told some of his constituents, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas!” Sam Houston was not at the Alamo but would lead the Texas revolutionary army to success at the Battle of San Jacinto. Houston had been governor of Tennessee but resigned after his wife deserted him. He became an alcoholic and returned to live with the Cherokees where he had spent time as a boy. He had come to Texas to make a new start in 1832 and after the success of the revolution became the first President of the Republic of Texas.

The selection and development of the next generation of leaders in any organization may be the most important task of any leader. Most organizations depend on resumes and interviews that are largely focused on what an individual has accomplished in their career to that point. But the Alamo suggests that Peter Drucker, the internationally renowned management consultant, was correct when he said, “experience only matters if you believe the future will look like the past.” The hiring and promotion process must include some consideration of individual competence, but it also must include an examination of potential, interest, drive, ethics, etc.

Critical thinking. Effective leaders should always challenge the implicit and explicit assumptions of their organizations. He/she must constantly be reminded that critical thinking is important to the success or failure of the organization. This is the leader’s ability to receive information, evaluate the information, recall prior relevant information, assimilate the information by comparing differences and determining cause/effect, and evaluating the information in order to make timely decisions and solve problems.

The Texans assumed Santa Anna would not lead an army into Texas until late spring. But the Mexican president surprised them by leading his army across 300 miles of difficult terrain during a bitter winter. Colonel Travis, commander of the Alamo, ignored reports from his Texcano scouts that the Mexican Army approached. Santa Anna might have totally surprised the Texans had a rainstorm not bogged down his advance a scant eight miles from San Antonio. All leaders must keep in mind that despite their best plans and efforts their competition or opponent also “gets a vote.” As you make decision and adjust your plans, they can do so as well.

Diversity on the team can be a strength. We often think or talk about the defenders of the Alamo as “Texans.” This is inaccurate. Half of the 180 defenders came from the southern portion of the United States and twenty from the North. 29 were from Tennessee. Many were not Americans including a number of Texcanos (Mexicans who had chosen to fight for independence). Forty came from Great Britain (eleven of them were Irish). There were a few Germans and one Dane.

Successful leaders realize that there is strength in diversity. But diversity is often times not just ethnicity or race. It also includes the number of men and women as well as sexual orientation. Diversity can also be considered for the various generations that are on the team from the Baby Boomer to the Millennial. Diversity allows an organization to draw on differing perspectives and insights. Furthermore, diverse organizations frequently have an advantage in terms of innovation and new ideas. But this requires leadership that, beyond underscoring the importance of diversity, emphasizes the requirement to help members of the team learn both the importance of diversity as well as the need for team harmony in order to be effective.

The power of communications. Communications is fundamental to leadership and is a skill that leaders can develop. Modern leaders must deal with multiple forms of communication — written, oral, telephone, email, social media, etc. The effective leader must decide which is appropriate for each situation. At a minimum, the leader must frequently communicate the organization’s mission, vision, and values to all of the members of his/her team.

By February 24, 1836 Colonel William Travis realized that the situation at the Alamo was becoming increasingly desperate. He sent a famous letter to the convention of Texas patriots that were meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos. In the letter Travis describes the mounting threat the overwhelming Mexican force poised to the defenders and requested reinforcements. He concludes the letter with the famous line “Victory or Death!” A rider departed the Alamo under the cover of darkness that evening and delivered it to the convention. By March 16 the letter and Travis’ final words had spread across Texas to New Orleans and from there across the United States. It would become a rallying cry for Texas independence.

On March 6, 2016 I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on this famous battle that occurred nearly two centuries ago, the men who died, and the lessons we can learn. Some historians argue this was one of the most important battles in the 19th century. The Battle of the Alamo allowed time for the Texas Army to prepare and eventually defeat Santa Anna at San Jacinto roughly a month later. This resulted in the creation of the Republic of Texas that would join the United States in 1845. The subsequent war with Mexico ended not only with an American victory, but the United States expanded its territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This relatively small battle and the efforts of the 180 defenders of the Alamo set the stage for the establishment of the continental United States.


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

The Significance of Ethics for Military and Professional Life

Ethics is of utmost importance: ask the CEO’s of leading corporations or America’s military leaders. Yet, at the same time, we might just as well dismally conclude that ethics is of no significance whatsoever! Just witness the private proclamations and even more the behavior of some of those same kinds of leaders when it comes to understanding, believing, and practicing what they preach.

Ethics is a bit like one of its key components: lying and truth-telling. No one publicly celebrates or advocates telling lies. Everyone testifies to the importance of the Truth. Yet everyone lies, and does so often: to spouses, children, friends, business associates, and the IRS – and usually feels that it is necessary or justified – at least in their very own “unique and exceptional” individual case.

Is this simply hypocrisy on our part? We say one thing and do the opposite? Or is it evidence of something even more complex.

I suggest that anyone puzzled or troubled by this apparent paradox simply try cross-examining those who proclaim to believe in the importance of ethics, and ask them further what they themselves understand and mean by “ethics.”

I predict that you will get a wide range of responses. Some people will quote a dictionary or encyclopedia definition, about living a “good and honorable life,” or consistently trying to “do what is right.” Others may cite beliefs in the inviolability of certain moral principles (such as “truth-telling,” above!), and go on to relate these moral principles to important religious or philosophical teachings from wise men or great leaders. Others may think that the lifelong cultivation of moral virtues and “good character” is the key to ethics.

But they will seldom cite the same religions, the same “great leaders,” or the same moral principles. They will often disagree, in fact, on what virtues are most important (is it courage or honor, loyalty or trustworthiness?). And this is because, finally, each person you consult will think these are all matters of highly variable personal conviction or opinion. In fact, about the only thing that people seem to agree on is the belief that “ethics” is a matter of personal or cultural opinions about right and wrong, and that there is little or no commonality among or between distinct individuals or cultures other than what “ethics” itself actually is.

That view is widely held. But that does not mean it is true or accurate.

What it does mean is that those who believe it are exempt from having to search deeply for better answers or firmer foundations for justifying moral beliefs. Instead, we are free to attribute bad behavior to the different beliefs about ethics by others respecting what constitutes right and wrong, rather than to wonder whether they (or we) might be mistaken about some of those beliefs. As a result, apart perhaps from self-interest, there seems to be little in the way of a shared conception of the Good at which right moral actions should aim.

Interestingly, such views fare less well within well-defined professions, like medicine or the military. Members of a professional community, engaged in a common enterprise like health care or defense of the nation, are less free to “go their own ways” with respect to moral beliefs. They share a conception of the Good at which their common professional activity aims: e.g., the health of their patients, the security of their citizens (in these two instances). They are thus compelled, whether they wish to or not, or always realize it or not, to engage with each other in a search for better or worse means of attaining or achieving those ends.

Assuming only a good-faith commitment to the practice of their profession, that is to say, the members of that profession are compelled to engage with each other about the proper practice of their profession. They are led to generate a common code of practice and ideals of best practice. And often, in reflecting upon some of the worst tragedies and disasters that befall individual members of their profession, they are led to further specify clearly the boundaries of acceptable professional practice, and the definition(s) of professional malfeasance. (This is what doctors did, for example, after World War II, in what is known as the “Nuremburg Code.”)

But that is precisely what “ethics” itself is: the discernment, through reflection upon our practices, of both the limits on acceptable conduct, as well as upon the standards and ideals upheld within the best practices of our profession. Often this process involves teaching these ideals and limitations on acceptable behavior to new recruits or initiates as an orientation to the profession, or else “publishing” them to the wider community in the form of a Code of Ethical Conduct to help our fellow citizens know who we are, and the values for which we stand (as well as to remind and guide our own members toward the fulfillment of these ideals).

At least in these important instances, where there is some prospect of sharing a common notion of the Good, there is less debate about what “ethics” itself is. “Ethics” consists of a commonly-forged and widely-shared conception of proper conduct of our lives and affairs in the wider world. In the wider world, in turn, we rightly hold to account the physician or the soldier – or for that matter, the teacher or the clergyman, the lawyer or the journalist – for living and practicing in accordance with the highest ideals of their chosen professional practice, while simultaneously avoiding transgressing the limits on acceptable professional conduct.

This is “professional ethics.” We are entitled to hold ourselves accountable for living up to these standards, or, when required, to sit in judgment of those who fail to do so. There is nothing self-righteous or sanctimonious about demanding that we all live according to the rules, laws, and ideals to which we have all voluntarily agreed, and that we all have freely shared in forging.

This, in turn, offers at least a clue about what “ethics” itself consists of in the wider world: an even broader call each and every one of us – whether doctor, lawyer, soldier, or citizen – to commit ourselves to proper, principled action, while continuously reflecting on the better and worse ways of living well and doing Good in our world, striving always toward the realization of the highest ideals of being a human being, as such. That is the proper understanding, and the proper practice, of “ethics.”


George Lucas is Distinguished Chair in Ethics Emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Visiting Distinguished Research Professor at Notre Dame University. His latest book is Military Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Lucas's book comes out today.
Lucas’s book comes out today. Click here to purchase. 

The Doomed?

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

George Santayana’s enduring quote has been seen, or heard, by many of us since we were in secondary school. Understanding these words is one thing, but understanding, learning and acting based on this statement could be the single act of courage that transforms a leader from ordinary to extraordinary.

History is replete with the names of leaders who “set the example” they demanded their colleagues follow. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, James Jones, Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff. But these “leaders” lacked important qualities — ethics and integrity. How might history have been different if enough courageous people in these circumstances had stood together against the tide?  While that takes extraordinary fortitude on the part of the participant, is there a viable, acceptable alternative? Martin Luther King said about a particularly challenging period in our national growth, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

A modicum of research provides us with examples of leadership failures AND of leadership successes. Taking inventory of the characteristics of some of the greatest leaders of all time, you will see that the following characteristics apply “across the board”:

Communication
Courage
Flexibility
Respect
Humility
Mentoring
Ambition
Vision
Integrity
Passion
Coaching
Accountability

 

 

 

So, in the end, what is our choice? History gives us the lens to clearly see what has previously shaped calamity and success. History provides us with the opportunity to make choices that might sometimes be called “the harder right.” With the evidence readily available before us, the question that begs asking is:

Who among us is doomed and who has the courage to transform?

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Gary Steele is a retired colonel and current senior consultant for Learning Dynamic. He has over thirty years of extensive national and international human resources experience as a leader, problem solver, and project manager, stemming from the  military, education, and pharmaceutical industry sectors.

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