I have found that studying leadership decisions made by real people, at that actual places where the decisions were made, and contemplating the reasons behind those decisions and the impact those decisions had on people and on the history of this nation is a powerful way to internalize leadership principles in myself and in managers and students. For 10 years I have been teaming up with a military historian and leadership consultant, Steve McCloud, (CEO of Trident Leadership) to lead groups to Chickamauga Battlefield to study principles of leadership. We have taken many UTC Executive MBA and Executive Education Program students on this seminar, along with executive and management teams from organizations such as The Dixie Group, General Motors, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Unum, Louisiana Pacific, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, and the Chattanooga Police Department.
The day-long seminar draws leadership lessons from the Battle of Chickamauga, fought during the Civil War on fields in nearby North Georgia. We go to very specific locations on the battlefield to understand what took place there. For example, General George Thomas was able to steady his men because of the high level of trust they had in him, and also to motivate his officers to hold their positions at all costs in the face of impossible odds. Not just any officer could have done that. At the battlefield, we discuss why General Thomas was able to do that, and draw leadership lessons from his behavior. As we visit each location on the battlefield where key leadership decisions occurred, we analyze them and apply the underlying principles involved to leadership in the corporate world. The seminar is an immersive, first–person experience that provides a challenging environment for critical, honest analysis as well as personal reflection. Battlefields are more than places; they are events, moments of truth, where history was made and the future was determined. So are business organizations – we usually don’t think about our leadership at work as making history, but that is exactly what we do. Like military commanders, business leaders have to confront danger, but not of a physical nature; they have to make critical decisions, and they have to inspire others to follow – all of which spells the difference between victory and defeat on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.