January 2005

Maj. Charles R. Bowery

Leadership lessons from Lee and Grant
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Military historian Maj. Charles R. Bowery Jr. explores the leadership exhibited by two of history’s greatest generals in Lee ∧ Grant: Profiles in Leadership from the Battlefields of Virginia. A former instructor at West Point, Maj. Bowery traces the progress of Lee and Grant from their early days as young officers to the last great campaign of the Civil War, exploring the styles each brought to the task of leading their armies. From both their successes and failures, Bowery gleans significant lessons for leaders in all walks of life.

BookPage interviewed Bowery via e-mail from Tikrit, Iraq, where he serves as the Operations Officer for the Gunfighters, a U.S. Army AH-64A Apache attack helicopter battalion.

BookPage: Your book, Lee ∧ Grant, ties the generals’ experiences into lessons on leadership and business management. What inspired you to pair military history with business advice? Charles Bowery: When I began this project, I viewed it as a challenge to write a book that combined military history, leadership and management topics into one narrative. I have studied the Civil War my entire life, so this was a golden opportunity to share my love of the subject with a wider audience. Plus, my military career has placed me in a variety of leadership positions, giving me an additional insight. I find a great deal to admire in both Lee and Grant, and I think their successes and failures have much to offer a leader in any endeavor.

Military and business activities have very different goals, methods and measures of success. Where do the military and business arenas differ, and where do they align? The greatest difference is the cost of failure. In the military, daily decisions literally have life-and-death consequences. Moreover, the drastic consequences of military failure tend to make military leaders more risk-averse, less willing to take drastic measures. If a business deal falls through, the sun rises the next day and life goes on.

The greatest similarities between the business and military worlds are their results-based philosophies and their hierarchical structures. A CEO or manager commands or leads employees in similar ways to a military officer. A business or military leader must apply the right mix of leadership styles and methods to get the most out of his or her team in any given situation.

How are you applying the leadership lessons from your book in your own experience as a military leader? One of the personal joys I had in writing Lee ∧ Grant was the time I was able to spend reflecting on my own abilities and shortcomings as a leader. From Robert E. Lee, I gained a much greater appreciation for the value of interpersonal skills to leadership. Many situations, especially in the military, require very direct, do this because I say so types of leadership, but Lee’s interaction with his subordinates shows that even in wartime, the Golden Rule can apply both to leaders and led.

Grant has shown me the value of persistence in all things, and the value of a calm, collected leader in desperate situations. The best example of Grant’s calming influence over his subordinates comes from the Battle of the Wilderness. As the battle wore on, some of his generals became increasingly worried that they would soon be on the receiving end of one of Lee’s famous crushing counterattacks. This worry, combined with the raw savagery of the fighting in the Wilderness, left the entire army on edge. Through it all, observers noted that Grant took the time to effect any necessary changes or enact orders, but otherwise sat on a stump near his headquarters and whittled a stick as reports came in. Worry and paranoia can become infectious, but so can rock-steady leadership. You present Lee and Grant as making both positive leadership decisions and equally significant errors. How have you seen similar decisions, both good and bad, emerge in leaders today, or even in your own efforts? The biggest leadership shortcoming I see is micromanagement, especially when time is short or in pressure situations. Even capable leaders often feel that the only way to get something done quickly or well is to do it themselves. Micromanagement stifles initiative, eliminates the possibility of outside the box ideas, and can increase the pressure on a superior to unmanageable levels. Grant encountered this problem in the Overland Campaign, as he exerted growing control over the minute tactical movements of General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac. In doing so, Grant created rifts in the Union Army’s high command that never healed. At times, both Lee and Grant demonstrated an overconfidence that left them open to disaster.

Near the end of the book you write, If one could combine the leadership qualities of [Lee and Grant] into one entity, the organization that that person led would simply be unstoppable. Who today combines these leadership qualities, and how? Since the millennium, two figures stand out to me as examples of transformational leadership: Steve Jobs of Apple Computer and Gen. (Ret.) Eric Shinseki. Over the past decade, Jobs has transformed the Apple brand into a trendsetter in every area of personal productivity and information technology. When my wife and I bought our first Apple in 1996, the company was floundering. The introduction of the iMac¨ in the late 1990s started the regeneration of the brand, and Jobs determined to keep Apple in both the hardware and software businesses. From there, Jobs kept improving and innovating, and the iPod¨ became the vehicle that propelled Apple to the top of the technology heap. It would have been easy for Jobs to scale back or get out of the business altogether, but he stuck with his vision and proved that it could work.

As the 34th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2003, General Shinseki overcame decades of institutional inertia and initiated a much-needed transformation of United States Army operations and training. During preparations for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shinseki spoke with absolute candor about troop requirements and stood by his beliefs in the face of great pressure to renounce them. Subsequent events have shown that his argument had merit.

Get the Book

Lee & Grant

Lee & Grant

By Maj. Charles R. Bowery
ISBN 9780814408193

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