Preview: Jeff Applequist, “Sacred Ground: Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg & The Little Bighorn

3 06 2010

I’m a little leery of the recent crop of books that attempt to draw leadership lessons from military history.  Friends have attended seminars in Gettysburg that relate modern business decision-making to incidents of the battle.  They tell me about what they read and what they were told, and most of the time I’m left shaking my head – I find they learn more legend or Civil War dogma than facts, which take a backseat to the more important lessons they supposedly support.  The same with books and programs that hold Abraham Lincoln up as some sort of model for today’s managers.  I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again – would you want to work for a boss who tells you one thing and does another; who interacts directly with your subordinates without consulting or informing you; who has no knowledge of the technical aspects of your job yet meddles in them constantly?  (I did once and it was a catastrophe.)  Though he was many other, perhaps more important things, Lincoln was no manager; certainly not one after which to model oneself.

OK, so I’m not a big fan of these books or programs.  However, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Jeff Applequist’s Sacred Ground: Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg and The Little Bighorn.  He’s a former Marine Corps officer who founded and runs Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars, which teaches leadership lessons and team building on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Little Bighorn.  From the inside jacket:

As leaders we have all faced moments of truth throughout our professional careers.  Important decisions directly impacting the success or failure of our teams and organizations have sometimes rested in our hands.  Is it possible that we could actually learn from historical examples how to make better decisions?  Is it possible to use lessons from history to improve in other dimensions of our leadership as well?  The answer is a resounding yes.

These questions should sound familiar: How do we manage through profound change?  How can we motivate our people in chaotic circumstances?  How do we make good decisions despite imperfect information?  How can we communicate more effectively?  How do we see things from another person’s point of view?  How can we better understand another culture in a global economy?  How will we win or even survive in a highly competitive and uncertain world?  The challenges leaders faced long ago are the same as those that leaders confront today.

In Sacred Ground, Jeff Applequist takes us on an amazing journey of exploration and discovery to the Gettysburg and Little Bighorn battlefields.  By studying these momentous events through the lens of individual leadership and team dynamics, we see that the stories from history are fascinating, the parallels to today are memorable, and the principles of leadership enduring. 

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