Understanding Lincoln – Presidents at War: Conflicts with Generals

If you hadn’t heard, our colleague and resident Abraham Lincoln expert Matt Pinsker has been conducting an incredible on-line course titled “Understanding Lincoln.” Diamond6 CEO Jeff McCausland was asked to participate. This most recent session focused the conflicts Lincoln faced with his generals. The responses to the discussion from grateful teachers has been incredible so far, all of them along the lines of this excerpt:

– “I thought yesterday’s discussion was incredibly intelligent.”

Jeff has had a great time participating in these sessions and can’t wait to take part in the last discussion Wednesday, July 9 at 10 am EST. Please take a moment and watch the video embedded below.

Leadership Insights from “A Day of Infamy”

PaperThis past summer I was fortunate to conduct a leadership seminar for a corporate group in Honolulu using the attack on Pearl Harbor
our case study.  This encouraged me to do extensive background reading on the tragic events of December 7th 1941 and the days immediately following.  I also visited the sites in Hawaii that were attacked.  The effort reaffirmed my belief that during crises the best (and sometimes the worst….) about leadership in any organization is underscored at such moments of great stress.  Clearly, this consideration is not in any way meant to glorify war, as I have personally seen far too much of war’s horror and destruction.  But it is rather to consider the day of infamy (that is so remembered by nearly every American and others around the world) from the perspective of what can any leader learn from this tragedy that might well resonate today?  As we approach the seventy-second anniversary of the attack there are a large number of important insights that can be taken from this iconic event.  The following are just a few.

Innovation is the key to any organization’s long term success.  Peter Drucker, the famous expert on organizations, once said that “innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance”.  But a “new idea” in any organization does not become an “innovation” until it can be replicated reliably on a meaningful scale, is fully embraced by the organization, and its advantages exploited.

The US military deployed the first radars on the north side of the island of Oahu in late November 1941.  On the morning of December 7th two young privates were manning the radar at Opana.  They identified the attacking Japanese aircraft on their scope roughly forty minutes before the attack actually began and reported it to the central tracking station at Ft. Shafter.  Despite their insistence an officer on duty told them, “don’t worry about it”.  He had not been trained, likely had little faith in the new devices, and mistakenly believed the sightings were new American bombers scheduled to arrive from the mainland.  In the aftermath of the battle, one of the soldiers commented, “the attack proved the value of this technology.  Up until then the Navy had viewed the radars as toys”.

What is the one thing that leaders must do?  They must DECIDE.  This may seem trite, but that does not make it less true.  Leaders must decide what action their organization is going to take and must further decide when their decision will be executed.  How much time is going to be used considering options?  How much information is needed particularly at difficult moments before a decision is made?  Have we developed subordinates who feel empowered to make timely decisions that may have a dramatic impact upon the entire organization?

On the morning of December 7th half of the commanders of the battleships in Pearl Harbor were ashore.  Lieutenant Commander James Thomas, a Navy Reservist, was the senior officer aboard the USS Nevada.  Prior to the attack a junior officer had ordered a second boiler lit to provide power for the ship.  Consequently, the Nevada was the only battleship able to generate sufficient engine power to get underway once the Japanese attack began.  Thomas quickly surveyed the situation and decided the ship had a better chance of survival if they made a run for the open sea.  As bombs rained down he ordered the Nevada underway and headed toward the harbor entrance.  Japanese aircraft quickly focused on the Nevada, and it was hit by a number of bombs and torpedoes.  As the ship approached the narrow entrance to the harbor Thomas realized that there was a real chance the Nevada might now sink and block the harbor entirely.  He ordered the ship in the shallow water near Hospital Point.  Two members of the Nevada crew were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and Thomas received the Navy Cross.

Thomas employed a concept of decision-making called the “OODA Loop — “Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act” that all leaders should consider.  He clearly observed the challenge to his ship and oriented on the key problem of taking actions that provided the best chance for the ship to survive the Japanese onslaught.  He then decided and ordered his crew to get the battleship underway.  When conditions changed dramatically, he reevaluated and made a timely decision that was clearly in the best interest of his ship and the entire force at Pearl Harbor.

Leadership and Teamwork.  The US Navy’s leadership paradigm is:  Ship, Shipmate, Self.  This was clearly illustrated in the initial hour following the Japanese attack.  Each individual’s initial responsibility is to his or her “ship” or their “team”.  Their second responsibility is to their “shipmates” or “teammates”, and there were extraordinary acts of heroism as Marines, soldiers, and sailors cared for each other.  Finally, “self” which implies the responsibility each team member has to not only care for themselves so they can perform well but also live up to the ethical norms of the organization.  Furthermore, they must seek continual improvement so they can be a better member of the team.
Doris Miller was an African American sailor aboard the USS West Virginia.  Miller was the ship’s heavyweight boxing championship but due to his race could only serve as a mess attendant.  He was collecting laundry when the attack began.  Miller immediately began hauling his wounded “shipmates” to safety and saved several lives.  He later carried ship’s injured captain to safety.  Miller then took over a 50-caliber anti-aircraft gun, which he had not been trained to use, and he began to defend his ship by firing at diving Japanese planes.  He is credited with having shot down at least one enemy aircraft before running out of ammunition and being ordered to abandon ship.  Miller was the first African-American to win the Navy Cross, but sadly Doris Miller would not see final victory.  In 1943, Miller’s ship was sunk in the Gilbert Islands, and he was never seen again.

Innovation, decision-making, and teamwork were crucial during the day of infamy.  As we consider this historic event Americans must be honest — the United States suffered one of its greatest defeats on that tragic day.  But we can learn a tremendous amount from the courageous efforts of the Pearl Harbor defenders.  They demonstrated critical leadership traits that were vital on December 7th 1941 and to America’s eventual success in World War II.  They remain critically important to any organization today.

Diamond6 in Hawaii; Leadership and Pearl Harbor

Ww2_pearl_harbor_resolve_posterOn July 9-10, 2013, Diamond6 partnered with First Canoe Strategies and Consulting, Inc. to host a very special leadership event for a major US company with international interests.   First Canoe, based in Honolulu, includes leadership training and leader development among its core competencies, primarily working with companies based in Hawaii or conducting business there.   Seminars can also be packaged for groups from companies based on the mainland that are traveling to or through Hawaii for conventions, off sites, strategic planning sessions or other similar events.

Those who are familiar with the Diamond6 leader training that takes place on the Gettysburg battlefield would recognize the format of the recent event hosted by First Canoe in Honolulu. The foundation of the seminar is based on one of the toughest, best known crucibles for leaders in America’s history—the attack on Pearl Harbor on “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”, December 7, 1941.  On that day, leaders were forged, leadership lessons were learned, and principles were tested that hold enormous value—and relevance—for the leaders of any organization who face tough decisions and the requirement to “make it happen” in an environment of great uncertainty or crisis.

Similar to the Gettysburg experience, Diamond6 and First Canoe facilitators took participants to key vantage points overlooking the sites where leaders took action, made decisions, and otherwise shaped the course of the battle that day, ultimately setting the course of history.  At each stop the conversation focused on an important leadership topic:

  • Pearl Harbor and “Battleship Row”—How does the company adapt to new technologies?
  • Hospital Point (the site of the emergency grounding of the USS Nevada after the initial attack)—How can our leaders make fast decisions in a crisis and get out ahead of the competition or a looming problem?
  • Hickam and Wheeler Airfields—Where do we see examples of “groupthink” in the company, and does it have us “lined up on a runway” vulnerable to unexpected surprises?
  • Fort Shafter (“The Pineapple Pentagon”)—What is the difference between authority and responsibility?  Do we have each allocated appropriately?
  • The Punchbowl—Do we understand our organizational culture, and is it conducive to our operations?

The seminar also included time for group discussion and reflection.  Some key insights that participants surfaced at these sessions included:

  • The Power of the Few:  how individual leaders can make a difference for the entire organization.
  • Inspirational Leadership:  the importance of a motivated and motivational leader.
  • Crisis—Danger and Opportunity:  how to seize the opportunity and hedge against the effects of danger
  • Information and Knowledge:  the difference between the two, and how to turn information into knowledge.
  • Decision Making:  how and when to make decisions, or decide not to.
  • Leading the Boss:  how to get the decisions and guidance you need to do your job.
  • Effective Communications:  how to make them the standard in the company.

Based on the survey administered at the end of the session, the experience was both valuable and enjoyable.  Some sample comments:

  • “Well prepared, planned, and executed by very professional people…” (An assistant to the company’s vice president)
  • “All of the seminar was highly impactful, not just one particular part…”  (A mid-level manager)
  • “I would definitely recommend this seminar to my industry friends…”  (A mid-level manager)
  • “The participants were “wowed”, with some saying that it was their best training ever!”  (Corporate Vice President)


For more information on First Canoe or the “Date Which Will Live in Infamy” Leadership Seminar, go to http://firstcanoe.com or send an e-mail to Crissy Gayagas (President and Founding Partner) at info@firstcanoe.com.  Seminar information is also available through Diamond6 at www.diamondsixleadership.com or info@diamondsixleadership.com

The top three leadership lessons from the battle of Gettysburg

Article was originally published in The Guardian on July 2, 2013

Gettysburg_General_Armistead_Picketts_Charge_smallThe United States has fought many battles in its history. During two battles, however, the fate of the entire nation hung in the balance. The first was Yorktown where the combined forces of George Washington’s Continental army and a French fleet defeated the British army and forced its surrender. If Washington had lost at Yorktown, the American war for independence might well have failed. The second was at Gettysburg during the American civil war.

For three days, 1-3 July 1863 the future of the US as one nation was in jeopardy. A Confederate victory could have resulted in recognition of the south as an independent state by several European powers, and Abraham Lincoln would likely have lost the election in 1864.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. We have an opportunity to reflect on many important leadership lessons that are as relevant today as they were in 1863. Let’s consider three:

1. The importance of time and timing
When a leader makes a decision for his/her organization, timing may actually be more important than the decision taken. The battle of Gettysburg occurs largely because a Union cavalry commander, John Buford, recognizes the critical importance of the town’s crossroads. As a result, he positions his troopers on the best terrain west of the city, resulting in the initial fighting on 1 July.

Today, we often believe that leaders are better equipped to make decisions based on a plethora of available technological devices (cellphones, iPads, computers, etc) and data. But if leaders today are not careful these very devices can rob their organizations of initiative. Buford made a decision for the entire Union army. If he had had a cellphone he might well have called his boss to ask his opinion, left a voicemail, sent a text, etc and then waited for a reply before acting thus wasting precious time.

2. Effective leaders must “park” their personal ego and focus on what is best for their organization
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great argues his research of the best modern companies demonstrates that so-called “Level 5 leaders” who make decisions solely based on what is best for their organizations are the most successful. Robert E Lee arrived at Gettysburg following a string of victories at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Consequently, some civil war historians have suggested that Lee, despite his brilliance as a tactician, may have suffered from hubris. He appears to have believed that he and his army of Northern Virginia could not be defeated. As a result he orders the now famous “Pickett’s Charge” on the third day, which resulted in disaster.

3. An effective leader must articulate and communicate a strategic vision to his/her organization
The full story of Gettysburg encompasses both the battle and the Gettysburg Address delivered by President Lincoln on 19 November 1863. This iconic speech of less than 300 words described a clear vision for the nation’s future – “a new birth of freedom”. It followed naturally from his first inaugural address that focused on preserving the Union, and the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in the “states under rebellion” but did not end slavery as an institution.

Lincoln would continue to communicate his vision for the nation to the end. At his urging, the US Congress passed the 13th Amendment ending slavery in America in January 1865. On 4 March, Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term. During his brief remarks (only slightly over 700 words) he described a vision of reconciliation: “With malice towards none, with charity towards all.” He later provided guidance to his Generals Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman that they should let them up easy when dealing with the impending surrender of Confederate troops.

On 10 April, there were celebrations throughout Washington following the announcement that Robert E Lee had surrendered. Lincoln addressed a crowd outside the White House that evening, and his final speech argued that former slaves who had fought for the Union should receive full citizenship including the right to vote. One of the onlookers was John Wilkes Booth, a relatively famous actor. On 14 April, Booth shot Lincoln during a play at Fords Theater. The president would die the next day – Good Friday. Sadly, the vision he articulated would not be realized for over a century.

Leadership is clearly an art and not a science, and we can learn much from the past. As we prepare for the future, leadership is as critical to any organization today as it was during a few days 1863.

Image from HERE.

Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.