Raising the level of your leadership

Valley Forge Leaders

I have just finished reading Valley Forge by Newt Gingrich & William R. Forstchen. Approximately 2500-3000 American soldiers died from exposure, disease and starvation during the winter of 1777-78. Yet, in June of 1778, they came out of that winter and held their own against a well-trained, well-fed and well-equipped British army at Monmouth Court House (NJ). It was at Monmouth that the Continental army learned that they could win on the battlefield and could in the end win their independence.

The British expected the Continental army to fold after their devastating winter at Valley Forge. Instead, the army came out stronger and eager to fight. Why? Leadership. Excerpts from the book:

About General Marquis de Lafayette:

“…he sought no rank whatsoever and would fight as a private volunteer.”

“While other generals were quick to find dry, warm quarters, Lafayette could often be found out on the picket line in the very eye of a driving storm….”

About Baron Friedrich von Steuben:

“You do not win allies by berating them and showing them their shortcomings. You win them by offering your hand.”

“…a good officer will find that a private sees far more than an officer at times.”

About George Washington:

“He had long drilled himself…to not think of himself….”

 “One ill-chosen response, one flash of temper, of self-serving behavior or blame-casting, one day of failed leadership could shatter the fragile core that held this army together.”

These excerpts speak for themselves. Lafayette, Steuben and Washington. Don’t you wish we had leaders like this in Washington…in corporations…in churches?

© Copyright 2011 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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"All In?"

I walked about four miles yesterday morning.

It was about 30 degrees. There were some light snow flurries and a brisk breeze. It was cold—but not too cold for a fast one hour walk. I had on gloves, my ears were covered, and my feet were covered with warm socks and shoes. Plus, I knew a hot cup of coffee and a fire awaited my return.

But I wasn’t “all in”—because if it had been a little colder, or sleeting instead of snowing, and if the wind had been roaring instead of just “breezing,” I would have stayed in the house. There is a limit to what I’ll endure to get a little exercise.

On the night of December 25, 1776, George Washington’s army of 2500 men was “all in.” On a bitter cold night, drenched by sleet and freezing rain, facing a howling relentless north wind, they trudged for nine miles on ankle-deep muddy roads in an desperate attempt to surprise the Hessians (Germans working for the British) in Trenton, Delaware, to gain their first victory in a revolution that was about to collapse. Their clothes were worn and threadbare and many were barefoot. Conditions were so severe that although only two were killed in the battle, several hundred died in the days thereafter due to the exposure and frostbite they suffered that night.

Why were these men willing to sacrifice and suffer so much? My gosh! They had no shoes and their feet were frozen, yet they kept going! They were hungry, sick, discouraged and alone (two other commanders and their troops were “no shows” that night). But these 2500 men were “all in”—their password for the night was “victory or death.” And whichever they faced, they were ready.

From a leadership perspective, there are three lessons from that night:

  • Clear purpose: they had a purpose—a cause—they were willing to die for—their freedom.
  • Compelling vision: they could see what it would mean to be “America” instead of the “colonies.”
  • Great leadership: Washington was the “first to lead and the last to withdraw” (quote from To Try Men’s Souls by Gingrich and Forstchen).

Questions for you:

  • Is there any purpose or vision for which you are “all in”? If not, find one!
  • Are your followers “all in”? If not, what are you going to do differently in leading them?

[By the way, they surprised the Hessians, gained their first victory, and saved the revolution. Get the whole story in To Try Men’s Souls.]

  • On Leading Well…

    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner


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