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Vol. 6 No. 7
www.stuffofheroes.com
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Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

© 2008 William A. Cohen, PhD

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Table of Contents for this Issue

News for Leaders: Immediately Following The Table of Contents

This Month’s Topic: THE INDIRECT LEADER INFLUENCE TACTICS

This Month’s Thought for Leaders: Immediate Following THE INDIRECT LEADER INFLUENCE TACTICS

Leadership Lessons from Last Month’s Free Downloadable Book:  The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

This Month’s Free Downloadable Book :  My Life on the Plains by Major General George Armstrong Custer

News for Leaders

About U. Free Non-Degree Courses. About U. offers  a collection of free online courses from About.com. Each online course is sent to you via email on a daily or weekly basis and is designed to help you learn a specific skill or solve a particular problem. There are no grades or degrees, only a whole lot of free online learning. Go to http://u.about.com/

1800 Free Online Courses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. World famous MIT offers 1800 free graduate and undergraduate courses online through MIT OpenCourseware. Go to http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/courses/courses/index.htm.

Full Day Peter Drucker Seminars Now Available. The following new full-day seminars based on my being Peter Drucker’s first executive PhD student, personal discussions with him, and my research of his writings are now available. These are The Lost Lessons of Peter F. Drucker, Drucker on Marketing, and Drucker on Leadership. For a complete description go to  SPEECHES, SEMINARS, AND WORKSHOPS  or contact me directly by e-mail at wcohen@stuffofheroes.com or telephone (626) 794-5998. Yes we do give international seminars — The U.S. country code is 01.

Seminar Discounts to U.S. Military, Police, Fire Fighters and other U.S. Government. We offer special discounts on seminars to all U.S. government organizations. In the past we have given these to the FBI, Police, Post Office Department, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, the Reserves and others. For full information contact me directly by e-mail at wcohen@stuffofheroes.com or telephone (626) 794-5998. Like Peter Drucker, I do not employ a secretary, so if I’m not in, leave a message.

Upcoming Public Seminar in Indonesia I am frequently asked about attending one of my public seminars. Unfortunately, these opportunities are rare. Most of my seminars, etc. are private — either for corporations, trade associations, groups from government, etc. However, public seminars do occur on occasion. When I do, I’ll keep you informed. I’ll be giving seminars in Jakarta, Indonesia in late July. Contact Mr. Hans Mandalas at hansmandalas@yahoo.com .

Book Reviews of A Class with Drucker.  As promised I am posting all book reviews available — good, bad, and indifferent — as received. If you see one not posted, please send it and I will include it. Just click Drucker Book Reviews.

INDIRECT LEADER INFLUENCE TACTICS

by ã William A. Cohen, PhD 2008

www.stuffofheroes.com

Indirect influence tactics are not direct or straightforward regarding your aims, your means, or both. This does not necessarily make them wrong when they benefit those you lead. It does reemphasize that your leadership must be for the benefit of others and not yourself.

Four Basic Indirect Influence Tactics

Four basic indirect influence tactics are:

  • Indirection
  • Enlistment
  • Redirection
  • Repudiation

Using the Indirection Influence Tactic

The indirection influence tactic is used when your authority is limited in the situation and those you want to lead will resist a direct influence tactic.

I heard a story once about a woman who was poised on the suspension of a bridge, about to commit suicide. A policeman below talked to the woman and tried to persuade her to come down with logic and failed. He tried to order her down. That didn’t work either. He tried negotiation and involvement. Nothing. Finally, he called up and said: “Lady you can jump if you want, but I sure wouldn’t want to jump into that dirty water. It’s full of sewage and garbage, and smells awful.” She immediately hesitated, and then climbed back down, where the police officer was able to use persuasion to get her to safety. That’s a good example of use of the indirection tactic.

 

Children Use The Indirection Tactic Frequently

Do you have children? You know when they begin to be particularly nice, offer to do extra work, or tell you how well you look, watch out! You are about to be lead by the indirection influence tactic.

Your children have no formal power in the family. As parents, the formal power is yours. But you are being led by the informal power of charm.

Do you know where you are being led? You may not know, but you soon will. Chances are your son wants to borrow the car, or your daughter wants to go out on a date in the middle of the week. Or, it may be something else.

 

My 12-Year Old Son Gets A Computer, And It Wasn’t Even His Birthday

Nimrod is a Biblical name. In the Bible, Nimrod was the first hunter. In Vietnam, my squadron, which hunted trucks at night in North Vietnam and Laos, were called “The Nimrods.” So, I gave my son the name, although today he goes by “Nim.”

When Nimrod was about twelve, he became very interested in computers. Neither my wife nor I owned one at the time, and they were expensive. Even a used Apple with laughable memory compared with today’s systems cost a lot of money. Nimrod talked about computers all the time. He got books and magazines and read about computers. He took a special course on computers given at summer school for older students. He wanted a computer . . . badly.

Nimrod started saving his money. But there isn’t lot twelve-year-olds can do to earn money. Even the paper routes of my youth, which was my way to cash, are generally no longer available. So, working every day after school, he started doing odd jobs going door to door. My wife and I calculated that at the rate he was going, it would take years for him to come up with the money. But he kept at it for several months, and continued eating, living, and breathing computers.

“Maybe we should just buy him one,” suggested my wife. “No way,” said I. “They cost too much money. He’ll earn enough eventually.” Yeah, right.

One day, I walked into his room to find it spotlessly clean. Moreover, not only was everything in order, but a several tables had been set against the wall with nothing on them. A straight back chair was placed before the center table.

“What’s this,” I inquired. Big mistake, that question. “It’s for my computer,” Nimrod answered. I turned around and left the room immediately. That afternoon, my wife and I got a “Recycler” newspaper that listed used items for sale. That evening, Nimrod had his computer. Note, he had never asked for one. But, Nimrod had led us where he wanted using the indirection tactic.

If our kids did this all the time, it wouldn’t work. Still, its amazing how often we do allow them to lead us this way even though we may know what’s happening. And so, Johnny gets to use the car and Sarah gets to go out Wednesday night even though we intended to encourage her to stay home and study.

 

How George Washington Saved The Country With The Indirection Tactic 

After the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army had not yet disbanded and Congress was slow in authorizing pay owed officers for many months. The righting of various other wrongs had been frequently promised by the Continental Congress, but never done. Finally, the officer corps could take no more. The Continental Army officers knew that George Washington, would never go along with seizing power from the civilian authority no matter how just the cause. They asked him anyway. They wanted to march on Congress, and give Washington the title of “King” or even “Dictator.” This was wrong, it was treason, and he told them so, only they wouldn’t listen. Moreover, he no longer had much sway over them since the War of Independence was over. These officers called a meeting to organize what amounted to a rebellion. Washington was invited, and he attended with the understanding that he be allowed to speak against rebellion. He hoped to dissuade them, and they actually agreed to hear him out and let him speak.

Washington spoke to these officers for more than an hour. Remember, these weren’t mercenaries or shirkers. Among them were many of the heroes of the revolution. Men like Alexander Hamilton, John Knox, and “Light Horse” Harry Lee all listened to Washington. Washington talked about why they had fought, what would happen should they rebel, and what Congress was trying to do and why, because it had limited powers over the individual states, it had to go slow. It was to no avail. Too many times before they had received promises from Congress only to see these promises broken. These officers were determined to take the law into their own hands!

Finally, Washington reached into his cloak and pulled out a pair of spectacles. No one had ever seen Washington with spectacles before. In the thinking of those days, it was the kind of physical weakness that commanders didn’t admit to. As he slowly put the glasses to his face he said: “Gentlemen, I have grown old in your service and now I am growing blind.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Unable to say more, Washington turned and left. At first there was only silence. Then, somebody said, “Oh what the heck. Maybe George is right. Let’s give Congress one more chance. The rebellion, of course, never took place.

Washington’s officers didn’t know that he had worn spectacles for years. Even his closest aides didn’t know that he wore glasses. Washington judged that the loss of his vanity and the risk of his prestige in opposing this treason was a worthwhile price to pay for an America free from a military dictatorship. He used the indirection influence tactic to get what he wanted after more direct tactics failed. To use the indirection tactic, those that you want to follow must know what you want. Then, you do something that will influence them to do it without asking for what you want directly.

 

Using The Enlistment Influence Tactic

With the enlistment influence tactic, you just ask. It works in situations where you don’t have the power, or may have the power, but may not want to use it. Just asking works in more situations than you might think. Not too long ago a social scientist looked at the motivation one person used in getting others to do things. He found that frequently the logic for persuading does not need to be perfect. The person doing the persuading only has to give a reason for wanting the action performed. During one study, this scientist discovered that many people would allow someone to cut ahead of them in a line to make copies on an office copier only if a reason were given.  Did the reason have to be compelling? Hardly. The person had only to say: “Can I go ahead of you because I have to make copies?”1I know this sounds crazy, but apparently the key was simply to say a reason, any reason. Just giving the reason was itself sufficiently persuasive. What the reason was wasn’t particularly important.

 

How A Leader Got The “Black Sheep” To Risk Their Lives By Asking

Do you remember seeing the television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” several years ago?  That series was the story of Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, a unique Marine commander during World War II. Boyington led his fighter squadron, the Black Sheep, against the Japanese. Under Boyington’s leadership, the Black Sheep became the highest scoring squadron in the Pacific in enemy planes shot down. Yet the Black Sheep, although all trained pilots, were rejects from other combat squadrons for one reason or another, thus their name. At one point, the Black Sheep had been in combat for a fairly long time. They received word that the following morning they would withdraw from combat for rest and relaxation some miles behind the lines. What do you think happens in a combat squadron when its members know that their last combat mission is over for awhile? Having been in such a squadron myself, I can tell you that if it can, the squadron makes one huge party. The consumption of alcoholic beverages goes up significantly. This is exactly what happened to the Black Sheep. When the last aircraft landed that evening, the party began in earnest. After several hours of partying, most were sleeping soundly, awaiting their coming departure in the morning. Colonel Boyington, then a major himself was about ready to turn in when he got a call from his commander on the main island. It was critical that a mission be sent to strafe a target near Bougainville that very night before his squadron was flown to a rear area out of the combat zone in the morning.

Pappy Boyington couldn’t believe his ears.  He didn’t know what to do.  His entire squadron had just had the biggest party of their lives. They were now no longer disposed to walk, much less fly on a combat mission.  How could he get them to do exactly that?  How could any leader get his subordinates to do anything under these circumstances?

Here’s what Pappy Boyington did in his own words. “I walked up and down between the cots for some time, trying to think this thing out, occasionally looking at some of the nude bodies that were completely crapped out beneath the mosquito netting. These perspiring and motionless forms were dreaming of anything but a night strafing mission, I was positive. I didn’t have the heart to order a flight, or to even ask the members who were assigned to my own flight to go with me.

“As I was thinking, I hear my own voice, not too loudly, and it said: ‘Are there any three clowns dumb enough to want to strafe Kahili and Kara with me tonight?’”2One of the Black Sheep looked up, blinked his eyes and said, “I’ll go with you, Pappy.” Two others mumbled something about “that sounds like fun.”  Colonel Boyington had his flight of Black Sheep. They went out together, and they strafed the two targets. They did combat again, even though a couple hours earlier they had thought that their combat was over.

Pappy Boyington didn’t give any better reason for strafing Kahili and Kara then the researcher did in asking to make copies. And, a night combat mission was certainly a lot more dangerous. Still, Boyington’s Black Sheep followed. Will such enlistment always work? Of course not. But, it can work and like a doctor who must sometimes try different medicines before he or she finds the right one, the leader must do the same.

 

When And How To Use The Influence Tactic of Redirection

The leader using redirection doesn’t want to reveal the real reason for the action he wants done. He wants to redirect those he leads because if he does not do this it will have a negative impact of one kind or another.

Let’s say there are two organizations whose offices are located right next to each other. The members of these organizations are constantly bickering. The fact that they are located so close to one another allows increased opportunity for hostile contact. So, having their offices moved away from one another physically separates the organizations. Does the memo announcing their move state that they are being relocated due to their bickering? Of course not. The stated reason is probably “efficiency,” or “better space utilization.”

Redirection is also used when firing senior managers. Senior executives are rarely officially fired. Rather, they are given new assignments. We say that they are “kicked upstairs.” This is a perfectly legitimate tactic with many advantages. We preserve the feelings of the fired executive to the maximum degree that we can. We show others that people are important to us. We just don’t throw people away like old shoes when they fail. Finally, an individual unsuitable for one job can do a superior job at a different time and at a different place.

 

Eisenhower’s Use Of The Redirection Tactic

In February of 1943, Eisenhower met his first defeat in Tunisia when Rommel counterattacked and rolled back Eisenhower’s line at the Battle of Kasserine Pass. After the battle, Eisenhower concluded that he had to replace one of his senior commanders, Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall. Fredendall was sent back to the states and replaced by someone who everyone came to know . . . a then fifty-six year old Major General by the name of George S. Patton. However, he was replaced in such a way that his career wasn’t necessarily destroyed. He was “re-assigned.” What happened to General Fredendall? He was eventually given a large training organization in the states. He did such a good job, that eventually he commanded The Second Army, an immense training organization, and he was eventually promoted to Lieutenant General.

 

How “Sam” Grant Used The Redirection Tactic

Ulysses S. “Sam” Grant was the man that Lincoln finally found to beat Robert E. Lee. To beat Lee, Grant also used the tactic of redirection to influence his men. At his first battle against Lee at the head of the Army of the Potomac, Lee won the day and Union forces retreated. As they retreated out of the Wilderness the Union columns got only as far as the Chancellorsville House crossroad. There they encountered a squat, bearded general smoking a cigar and sitting on horseback. As the head of each regiment came abreast of him he took out his cigar and pointed to the right fork. That’s where they went. They thought they were retreating, but the right fork led right back into battle against Lee’s flank.3    Redirection can also be used to get the minds of those you lead focused on other things. One scene in the television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” showed this clearly. One of Pappy Boyington’s squadron members came to him with a problem. Thinking about his first combat on the coming day, this pilot was afraid to fight! Instead of consoling him, Boyington said only, “I think I have something that’s going to help you.” With that, Boyington hauled off and decked him. Responding out of instinct, the pilot got up and punched Boyington. Before it could go further, Boyington pointed out that in the heat of battle he would forget his fears.

 

How To Use The Influence Tactic Of Repudiation

In using the repudiation tactic, the leader gets someone to do something by disclaiming his or her own ability or power to do it. An analyst goes to his supervisor and asks for help in doing some problems. “Gee, I’d like to help,” his supervisor says, “but I haven’t worked this time of analysis in quite a long time. How would you approach them? Why don’t you start out. Maybe I’ll remember a little.” So the analyst begins to work the analysis. Whenever he gets stuck, his leader gets him going again. The supervisor used the repudiation strategy to get the analyst to learn to do the job and to do the job at the same time. The repudiation tactic can also be used by subordinates to lead their bosses, or by managers to lead other managers. “Boss, I have a problem and I wonder how you would handle it?” The boss is flattered to be asked. Most bosses are more than willing to help out.

 

Peter Drucker’s Example

Peter Drucker once pointed out that the empathy built with the boss in this way is probably more beneficial to the organization than the subordinate’s always going off by himself and working out the solution without a consultation. That’s not to say that a leader should never work out his own problems or that he must consult his boss about everything. But most executives probably do not consult with their bosses as much as they should.  In one company Drucker commented two vice-presidents of different operating divisions. While equally competent and with similar backgrounds, each had an entirely different method of operating. One consulted with the president of the company about his problems fairly often. He used the repudiation influence tactic to lead his boss. The other vice-president did everything on his own. He kept the president informed about his decisions, but never talked a problem over with him unless the president requested it. Both got equally good results. After three years, the president announced his retirement. Which vice-president do you think he picked to replace him? Must of us thought it would be the executive that worked out all the problems on his own. However, according to Drucker it was the one that consulted with him frequently.

 

The Repudiation Tactic And Boss Sponsorship

I believe that the reason the repudiation tactic can lead to support when used with your boss is that your boss becomes your mentor. Research of top managers both in and out of the military has discovered that no leader reaches the higher levels of the executive suite with out a “mentor” or “sponsor.” A mentor is someone who has found a subordinate to be someone that the sponsor thinks has special ability. The mentor keeps his eye on his protégé and in various ways helps his or her career along. Outside the military, mentoring has almost become structured in some companies.

General George C. Marshall carried mentoring to an art form. He kept his own list of up and coming young officers and their qualifications over a period of thirty years. When World War II came, General Marshall was Chief of Staff of the Army. His knowledge and sponsorship of the young officers he had noticed years earlier led to the elevation and promotion of men like Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, and Mark Clark.

However, if you are going to use the repudiation influence tactic with your boss, you must be extremely careful.  You can use repudiation to lead your boss, but do not expect an automatic sponsorship. There is also the question of time and individual preferences. Your boss may prefer that you work your problems out on your own. Finally, if you force the relationship, you’re going to get in trouble with your boss as well as other managers at your level. Nobody likes what has been called variously “teacher’s pet,” “brown nose,” or more kindly “fair-haired boy.”

Many managers use the repudiation tactic to lead other managers at their levels. Instead of competing in an area that the other manager does better, the good leader disclaims his own ability and in doing so gets his colleague to do what he wants.  “Joe you’re the best softball coach the company team ever had. I’m going to recommend that you be named the coach this year again.”

 

When To Use One Influence Tactic Over Another

One of the most valuable lessons you can learn about using the four direct and four indirect influence tactics is that there is a time and place for all of them. If you have one tactic that you rely on almost all the time, you are almost certain to get into trouble. Stop and think if one of the other tactics might not be more appropriate and might lead to better results.

Your selection of a particular tactic will depend on:

  • the individual personality of the person or persons you are leading
  • the frame of mind of the person or persons you are leading
  • your own current frame of mind
  • your goals or objectives
  • the relative power between you and those you lead
  • the importance of time in the action you want taken
  • the type of commitment you require to completing your desired action
  • rules, laws, or authority you may have in the situation

The eight influence tactics can also be used in combination, or one after the other.  Certain influence tactics tend to work better than others as the situation changes. A new company or organization is formed. The leader emphasizes attracting qualified people. This requires persuasion tactics. As his organization grows, team building and the exchange of ideas becomes more important. Involvement tactics are more used. Now the organizational units are formed and the biggest question is how the work should be divided up. This requires negotiation. Once the company is into production, tasks are more routine, but time is critical. This calls for more direction. Throughout, indirection, enlistment, redirection, and repudiation may be used.

The Four Indirect Tactics – When Or When Not To Use Them

Remember that indirect tactics are risky. They should only be used for the benefit of your people or your organization, never yourself. They are most suitable for situations where the four direct influence tactics either can’t be used, won’t work, or are less effective, or to make direct tactics more effective.

  • Use indirection when your authority is informal, rather than formal, and direct tactics haven’t worked or may arouse resistance.
  • Use enlistment when you don’t have the power, or it is undesirable to use the power you have in a particular situation.
  • Use redirection when you don’t want to reveal the real reason for the action you want done.
  • Use repudiation when it is important to disclaim your own power or ability to get something done.

 

One tactic is not the best under all conditions. Any of these tactics may be the best depending on a variety of factors. So in every case the effective leader must consider all of his or her options and all factors in deciding which tactic or combination of tactics to use.


1Robert B. Cialdini, The Psychology of InfluenceRev. Ed. (New York: William Morrow, 1993) p.4.

2 Gregory Boyington, Baa Baa Black Sheep,”  (New York: Bantam Books, 1977) p. 185.

3 The Armed Forces Officer (U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1950) p.86

THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS

The business of a leader is to turn weakness into strength,

obstacles into stepping stones, and disaster into triumph.

                                                                     – Anonymous

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ANDREW CARNEGIE

by Andrew Carnegie

This month’s free downloadable book. is The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. I’m not biased toward the the name Carnegie, but this month’s book’s author is by someone of the same last name as last month’s author. However, this time the book is an autobiography. Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest American of the 19th century. Yet he came to this country with absolutely nothing. He made his money, millions of dollars, billions in today’s dollars,  manufacturing steel. Then after retirement, whereas other wealthy men created statues or libraries with their names and likenesses prominently displayed, Carnegie gave a good deal of his money (90% by some counts) away . Carnegie was one of our first great philanthropists. He was not a giant physically. He was less than 5′ 6″ tall. However, he was a giant leader. He did not claim to know much about steel. But he knew a great deal about people. His tombstone bears the words:  “Here lies a man who was able to surround himself with men far cleverer than himself.” Leaders of the 21st century can learn much from this leader of the 19th. His book is athttp://www.gutenberg.org/files/17976/17976-h/17976-h.htm.

THE LEADERSHIP LESSONS

1. Andrew Carnegie came to this country without a penny and with no education. He took the only job he could get at a wage which was barely enough to keep him from starvation as a laborer. However, he worked hard. His success was not instantaneous. However, even then he practiced a lesson which got him promoted again and again. It was simply to do his duty as best he could under all circumstances and not to worry and reward or anything else for himself. This certainly goes along with one of the eight universal laws of leadership: duty before self. Duty before self is always a major leadership lesson and lesson for life.

2. Carnegies first big break came when a messenger boy was needed at a telegraph office. He didn’t know the city well. That’s  a prime requirement for a messenger boy. However, the interviewer was so impressed with his reputation for honesty, diligence, and hard work and he was hired anyway. He wasn’t always delivering messages, and when he was not instead of playing games as did the others, he learned all he could about telegraphy. Soon he could do what few others were able to do — understand a message without having to copy the dots and dashes down first before translating. In an emergency, it was discovered that he could do that which most operators could not do. Remember, all he was hired to do was deliver telegraph messages. This got him more opportunities to demonstrate his talents and eventually his leadership abilities.

3. Sometime later he was a special assistant to the director of a railroad. When his boss was absent and could not be contacted, a major accident occurred. Freight trains in both directions were standing still on the sidings. Orders had to be issued right away, but no one was available to issue these orders. Carnegie certainly didn’t have the authority. However, here again he had used his own time to learn what needed to be done in a variety of situations. While many would have wrung their hands and stated that only the boss could make these decisions, Carnegie took a heavy risk. He telegraphed the proper orders in his boss’s name. He could have been fired. He would have had his orders been wrong. But they were the right orders and he got the trains moving again. When his boss came in he showed him the position of every train. His boss said nothing about this and Carnegie said nothing. However afterwards his boss gave him more and more responsibility, and when his boss got promoted, he got his job.

4. Carnegie recommended that you “tell it like it is” to your superior, no matter how difficult the subject. As head of military railroads during the Civil war, he met many generals including General Grant, who he much admired. Carnegie said that at one point early in the war Grant began to indulge too freely in liquor, and old bad habit. His officers began to comment about it. His Chief of Staff told him so. Grant recognized that this was the act of a true friend and he never drank a drop of liquor again, ever. Two lessons here. The first: you are obligated to speak the truth and keep those you work for informed. The second lesson? If one of your subordinates tells you something like this, don’t fire him. Listen — and if true change what you are doing.

5. Later as head of a bridge building company Carnegie made it a point to be on the spot whenever a contract was awarded. On one occasion his company did not have the lowest bid. But a pre-award inspection showed some faulty use of materials. Carnegie was on the spot. He was asked if his company would take the contract at the other company’s lower price, to which he immediately agreed. When important things are happening, always be where the action is.

Want to know how Carnegie became the richest man in America? You’re going to have to read the book.

THIS MONTH’S FREE, DOWN LOADABLE BOOK: MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS

by Major General George Armstrong Custer

Major General George Armstrong Custer has been one of the most controversial figures in American history. During his lifetime he was considered one of the greatest of American heroes and commanders. While still a lieutenant he became one of America’s first balloon observers in fighting near Yorktown, Virginia. He was so effective as a cavalry commander that he was promoted over thousands of other officers from captain to brigadier general skipping the other ranks. His men worshipped him and wrote glowing stories about his bravery and leadership. He was the youngest major general in the Union Army during the Civil War, reaching this senior rank when still in his twenties. He was so highly thought of by senior Army officers and by President Abraham Lincoln, that after General Robert E. Lee signed the surrender documents which ended the war at Appomattox, Custer, who witnessed the signing, was presented the desk on which Lee signed.

After the war, Custer put down a major Klu Klux Klan uprising in the south and was sent west to fight Indians. Here, though he won victories, he was criticized by many. His subordinates were said to either love him or hate him. He never lost a single battle or scrimmage and was considered a prudent strategist who didn’t waste his men until his last battle for which he is known best, The Battle of the Little Big Horn. In this battle he led  his regiment, the 7th Cavalry, about 600 men, against several thousand Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The entire battalion of about 240 which he led personally, including Custer, was annihilated. This actually started the controversy about him, some saying he knew the odds he faced, but had no choice; others claiming, he was just plain foolish. Most, considering his past record, gave Custer the benefit of the doubt until modern times when beginning during the 1960’s he came a symbol of the American government’s treatment of Native Americans during the 19th century, although he personally held the opinion that had he been an Indian he would have fought against the United States.

Then in 1996, two works of fiction occurred which turned everything on its head. The first was written by Frederick J. Chiventone, a retired Army officer who had been an instructor at the U.S. Army’s Command and Staff College. He said the since the Indian Wars had been little studied, a class of officers, all combat veterans were led on a battlefield walk on the battleground of the Little Big Horn battle. At each critical point this group of officers were given the same information that Custer had at that point in the battle and asked to make a consensus decision as to what Custer should have done. He said that much to their surprise, in every instance they made exactly the same decisions as Custer had taken. His book was called A Road We Do Not Know. The other book, Marching to Valla was written Michael Blake, the author of Dances with Wolves, which was later made into a movie. Dances with Wolves showed the anti-Indian policy in the government in its worst light and in a very dramatic light. It was expected that Blake’s Custer book would be even stronger in its commendation against the very symbol of wrong doing against against Native Americans. Much to everyone’s shock, the book showed Custer in a very favorable light. Aggressively questioned on the Today Show on TV by Katie Couric about what he had written, Blake responded: “Before I started my research I thought that the book would be very unfavorable to Custer, too. However, I found out I was wrong. Custer was a great American hero.”

Custer’s book, My Life on the Plains, won’t settle the controversy since obviously it was written before The Battle of Little Big Horn. However, the book is well worth reading as an insight into Custer’s thinking and character and there are plenty of leadership lessons. You’ll find the book at: http://www.kancoll.org/books/custerg/ .Originally it appeared serialized in Galaxy Magazine.

 

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