WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant provide timeless lessons in leadership -- and followership -- as outlined in a new book by Army Maj. Charles R. Bowery Jr., who is serving in Iraq.
During Thanksgiving weekend United Press International interviewed Bowery by e-mail about his recently published book, "LEE & GRANT: Profiles in Leadership from the Battlefields of Virginia" (AMACOM, Nov. 2004, 216 pp.)
The book largely focuses on clashes between Union and Confederate forces during the Overland Campaign -- the largest and deadliest military action ever waged on the North American continent.
During the months of the campaign each army grappled in titanic struggle, waging battle after battle in the spring of 1864, with General Robert E. Lee slowly backing toward Richmond followed by the larger Union Army of the Potomac led by General Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant had vowed to President Lincoln that wherever the enemy was "there he would be" in a gambit to finally end the Civil War. Nevertheless, the war was to continue nearly another year, after a long seige of Petersburg, Va., by the Union army.
Lee was obliged to surrender a largely broken army on April 9, 1865. Over a half-million Americans lay dead from the Civil War.
Readers of "LEE & GRANT" will find a succession of leadership lessons in following the career of each general that are as pertinent to the 21st century as they were in the 19th.
Bowery is stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, with the Army's 1st Infantry Division. He is responsible for supervising day-to-day operations and planning combat missions for a battalion of 24 attack helicopters. Known as the "Gunfighters," his battalion provides support for ground troops fighting Iraqi insurgents.
Prior to his combat tour, Bowery completed the Command and General Staff Officer's Course at Forth Leavenworth, Kansas, and served with the 1st Infantry Division in Ansbach, Germany.
Holding a Master's in military history, the major has also served as an instructor at West Point. Born and raised in New Kent County, Va., outside of Richmond, Bowery became interested in the Civil War as a boy.
Scheduled to return to Germany sometime in early 2005, Bowery says he looks forward to rejoining his wife Mary Ann, an Army lawyer with the Judge Advocate General's Corp, and resuming their weekend travels through Europe with their Great Dane, Frederick.
Q. You mention that your book isn't so much a management leadership book, as a snapshot of a key part of American history and several of its top players from which leadership lessons can be gained.
How did you pick this era and these leaders?
A. Military history is both my vocation and my avocation. I grew up in Tidewater Virginia, right on the edge of several Civil War battlefields, and had three Confederate ancestors. So, interest in the war came naturally for me. My daily school bus trip as a child took me past historical markers describing the exploits of Stonewall Jackson, and the first book that I can remember checking out of the library was about the war.
Five years ago the Army gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to obtain a Master's degree in history and teach military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. I decided to concentrate on my first love, and wrote a thesis on the Army of Northern Virginia. During the two years I taught at West Point, I got the chance to publish articles and book reviews on Civil War topics, and to lead tours and cadet trips to many famous battlefields, including Gettysburg and Antietam.
My time at West Point also led to the opportunity to write LEE & GRANT. Amacom Publishing solicits manuscripts on leadership or management topics, and I thought that Lee and Grant together made a perfect leadership study, with the 1864 campaign as the backdrop for that study.
Q. Tell us briefly, what kind of leaders U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were.
A. In spite of the manner in which they have been portrayed since the Civil War, Grant and Lee shared many similarities as leaders. They both applied tremendous energy and intellect to the causes they served, and pursued victory with single-minded dedication. Both men exemplified the modern concept of "transformational leadership," in which a leader makes an organization better than it originally was through personal example, inspirational motivation, and individualized attention to the needs of subordinates. Finally, both Grant and Lee were outstanding followers, executing the wishes of their superiors (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis) in ways that gave them the latitude they needed to get the job done.
Ulysses S. Grant had a unique ability to perceive his enemy's "center of gravity" in a given situation, envision a plan to attack and defeat that center of gravity, and apply all available resources to the effort. This is the sort of conceptual thinking that is very easy to explain but difficult to do. Grant was almost unique among Civil War generals because of this ability.
Robert E. Lee was the kind of leader that people remember fondly for their entire lives, far beyond the time of the working relationship. He led by personal example and carried himself with an innate dignity and bearing, combined with kindness and compassion, that simply made those around him trust him and follow him. He combined these gentlemanly traits with the same sort of determination and drive that propelled Grant.
Q. What went into making these two leaders - were they born leaders or did they grow into their roles?
A. I believe that great leaders are both born with those abilities and made by their experiences. That being said, the essential qualities that made Grant and Lee great leaders- vision, dignity, bearing, energy -- were inborn traits. Anyone who picks up a biography of either general will see that both of them exhibited these qualities throughout their lives.
Q. As you point out in LEE & GRANT, the opposing generals shared a military education in West Point -- elaborate more on this interesting detail.
A. Although the phrase "brother against brother" has almost become a cliché, it certainly applied to the American Civil War, and to the officers of both armies in particular. The shared West Point education of both sides' ranking generals did a great deal to narrow the gap between the capabilities of the Union and the Confederacy, and explains a lot about why the Overland Campaign was such a hard-fought contest. For Grant and Lee, the West Point experience reinforced and internalized character traits of dedication to duty that they already exhibited. West Point also gave them the intellectual tools to assume high command when the time came. Finally, when the shooting stopped the common experiences of both sides' generals helped to make possible reconciliation between North and South.
Q. To many minds, Lee was the more resolute adversary, preserving against daunting obstacles on numbers and supplies. How is Grant a model of persistence?
A. Grant's entire life is an object lesson in persistence. He worked hard to gain admittance to West Point, and endured through numerous personal failures once he resigned from the Army after the Mexican-American War.
Throughout his life Grant endured a stream of innuendo from personal enemies accusing him of alcoholism and incompetence, and continued instead to do what he thought was right. The aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, in April 1862, is a case in point. After recovering from some mistakes that allowed his army to suffer a surprise attack on the first day of the battle, he won an important victory, but was effectively cashiered by the Union high command in the process. In the face of this adversity Grant continued to act as a professional soldier should, making a positive impact when and where he could. In the end, Lincoln realized his value to the Union cause and continued to elevate him to higher and higher responsibilities.
Q. How did Lee particularly excel in understanding his subordinates?
A. Lee had a unique understanding of the contributions of both professional soldiers and citizen soldiers in the leadership of the Army of Northern Virginia. Each group responded to different sorts of leadership.
Professional, West Point trained officers were quite used to taking strict orders, while volunteer officers or political appointees required a bit more finesse to manage. There is a much of value for the modern leader here.
When a leader inherits the reigns of a new organization, they may not have the latitude to hire and fire as they might wish. "Playing the hand you are dealt" in terms of subordinates is thus an important skill. Your superiors expect results, not complaints that you cannot accomplish tasks because you are handicapped by the shortcomings of your middle managers.
One incident from the Overland Campaign best illustrates Lee's talents in this area. When a general criticized Lee for not firing another officer who had disappointed him, Lee responded with a bit of advice that is applicable to any leader in any time and place.
"Whom would you put in his place?" Lee asked in return. "You'll have to do what I do: When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time."
Lee was perfectly capable of firing a subordinate if the situation allowed, but his leadership skills allowed him to derive maximum performance from practically every member of his team.
Q. Which general was more consistently calm under fire? How did both repeatedly lead by personal example in moments of crisis?
A. I would have to say that of the two, Grant displayed a more unflappable demeanor under pressure. At the height of the Battle of the Wilderness, when it looked very much like yet another Union offensive against Lee was going to bog down into chaos and retreat, Grant sat near his headquarters and quietly whittled a stick.
This was not to say that he was not involved in what was happening; rather, he knew that his personal example would exercise a calming influence over the entire army. When one of his generals expressed worry over Robert E. Lee's next move, Grant told the general to go back to his troops and worry not about what Lee was going to do to them, but about what they were going to do to Lee.
Robert E. Lee led by personal example at several key moments during the Overland Campaign. In The Wilderness and twice again at Spotsylvania, he sensed that portions of his army were about to crack under Union attacks, and made a conspicuous show of moving forward to supervise his defenses in person. Lee was a brave man, and probably had every intention of going forward under enemy fire, but his men would have none of it. On all three occasions, his men demanded that he move to a safer place, guaranteeing that they would defeat the enemy's attacks. They did so in each case, demonstrating the power of leadership by example.
Q. In addition to their great successes, both men had stunning failures - Gettysburg for Lee and Cold Harbor for Grant. What flaws of leadership led to these mistakes?
A. Both defeats stemmed from the same central causes: overconfidence and fatigue. After Gettysburg, Lee made the comment that he thought his army was "invincible," immune to the fog and friction of war. This overconfidence, combined with ill health led Lee to make some uncharacteristically bad decisions in the course of the campaign.
At Cold Harbor, weeks of continuous campaigning had eroded the effectiveness both of Grant and of the army he led. Grant also believed that because of the events of the previous few days, Lee's army was finished as a fighting force, and that one more strong attack would end the campaign and possibly the war. These factors, combined with the rift that had developed between him and his immediate subordinate George G. Meade, led him to create a very sloppy, uncoordinated plan for Cold Harbor, in which neither general really took charge of the proceedings. The result was a stunning Union defeat.
Both of these cases remind us that in the end, leaders are as subject as anyone to human shortcomings. Gettysburg and Cold Harbor also demonstrate the bad things that can happen when leaders overreach, attempting to do more than their organizations are capable of at a given time.
Q. How were both men hindered by their respective chains of command and by political considerations during their leadership?
A. As I mentioned earlier, the high commands of both armies were filled with "political generals," men who owed their military positions to the power they wielded at the ballot box.
On the Union side, certain generals with Democratic Party connections gave the Republican President Lincoln critical support in many parts of the North. Grant was thus forced to make due with less than competent subordinates in some key positions. Lee, too, had many of the same headaches with his generals, and had the additional problem of dealing with state governors who were extremely jealous of their independent standing within the Confederacy, to the point that they sometimes withheld manpower or supplies from the Army of Northern Virginia.
Q. How was Grant especially adept in distinguishing between reverse and defeat? How can today's business leaders apply this skill?
A. Because Grant had an essentially sound understanding of his opponent's center of gravity (resources, manpower, and war materiel), and because he knew that those areas were his greatest strength, he was thus able to conceptualize his campaigns moving forward even when every single engagement did not go as he planned.
Grant also had the moral courage to stand behind a plan that he knew would entail large numbers of casualties and cause a great deal of controversy on the home front. Thus, in spite of grievous casualty lists and indecisive battles during the Overland Campaign, battles that caused newspaper editors to label him a "butcher," Grant continued to keep his army in motion, earning the praise of many of his men.
The famous evening of May 7, 1864 is a good example. At the close of the battle many veteran Union soldiers expected that this fight would turn out as had so many others, with their army withdrawing northward to Washington to no good end. When the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac realized that they were instead turning southward, in the direction of Richmond, they swept the forest with cheers as Grant and his staff rode by.
If a business leader has an essentially sound overall concept, but certain aspects do not go according to plan, this ability to tell a temporary "reverse" from a more lasting "defeat" can keep him from putting needless strain on his organization with unnecessary changes. This ability requires a leader to have confidence in himself, stand behind his plan 100 percent, and be willing to endure criticism with confidence.
Q. What are some of the great quotations of all time that each man was said to have commented during battle?
A. Grant was a man of few words, my personal favorite is said to have occurred at the close of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, when Union forces had come within a whisker of total defeat. As Grant and his favorite subordinate William T. Sherman sat beneath a tree in a rainstorm, Sherman commented that they had had "the Devil's own day." "Yes," Grant replied, "Lick 'em tomorrow though." And so they did!
"It was all my fault." Five simple words, perhaps a strange favorite quotation, but for me they sum up many of the qualities that made Lee one of the greatest leaders in American history. He spoke them with complete candor to his men after the Battle of Gettysburg, in acknowledgment that it was indeed his fault.
Lee had the moral courage to take responsibility for the actions of his army, where on so many other battlefields Union and Confederate generals responded to defeat by engaging in witch hunts and fault-finding in an effort to save their own reputations. This quotation also helps me to remember that my favorite historical figure was definitely not perfect, as so many others have tried to make him out to be. Lee was no "marble man," no saint. He was a human being with foibles and shortcomings that make him, for me, all the more fascinating.
Q. What can today's leaders learn from these two great Civil War leaders about reframing problems and negotiating solutions?
A. Both Grant and Lee had the innate ability of great leaders to see through chaos and distraction, figure out what to do, and execute.
Lee demonstrated this skill immediately upon taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862. An immense Union army sat at the gates of Richmond, commanded by a general willing and able to starve and pound the Confederacy into submission. Lee took command after the wounding of Joseph E. Johnston, determined that the immediate problem was retaining the freedom of his smaller army to maneuver, and designed a plan of battle to accomplish just that. The ensuing Peninsula Campaign was not a complete tactical victory for the Confederates -- indeed, Lee's army performed rather poorly in its first big campaign -- but it was a strategic victory of immense proportions in that it literally preserved the Confederacy and its capital city.
It would take another two years of fighting for Union forces to approach as closely to Richmond again.
Grant, too, possessed the same ability, as he displayed time and time again during the war. He did so at Vicksburg, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to craft a plan of attack that none of his enemies thought possible, and again in Virginia in 1864. As the general in chief of Union armies, he employed the skills of "integrative bargaining" with Abraham Lincoln and the other Union generals, giving in to their central ideas about the war while using his standing and credibility to gain absolute freedom to maneuver as he saw fit.
Many of his predecessors had taken the "distributive," or winner/loser approach to bargaining, demanding that the president bow to their every wish about how to prosecute the war. This approach got nowhere with Lincoln, who was a strong leader in his own right. Taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of his adversary, the terrain on which he had to operate, and the absolute strategic imperatives imposed by Lincoln, Grant designed a master campaign plan that accounted for all of them.
By implementing a strategy of attacking Confederate armies unceasingly and simultaneously, in all theaters of the war, Grant did what many other Union commanders had tried to do -- he gave the Union final victory. Reframing is about crafting a solid vision, and applying both good leadership skills and good followership skills as well.
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