THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
Vol. 9, No. 3
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102
© 2012 William A. Cohen, PhD
“Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.“
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The Need to Inspire Others to Follow Your Vision
© 2012 William A. Cohen, PhD
One of America’s outstanding, yet strangest commandos was Colonel John S. Mosby, of the 4th Virginia Cavalry, Confederate States of America. For almost four years Mosby made life miserable for Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley of Northern Virginia and around the area of the Federal capitol in Washington, D.C. His commandos operated like guerillas. He appeared out of nowhere to strike, and disappeared as suddenly as he had first appeared to attack somewhere else. To both sides he was known as “The Gray Ghost,” a name given him by President Lincoln. Many Federals officers hated him. They saw his style of fighting as “unfair” and “dishonorable.” However more than one military historian credits him with having a major impact on the war by drawing thousands of Union forces away from where they were most needed to defend the Capitol or to try and capture him. Yet, he never had more than a couple hundred commandos in his entire command.
Before the war, Mosby had attended the University of Virginia. However, he was dismissed prior to graduation after shooting a fellow student during a dispute. He joined a law office, passed the bar, and began to practice law. After the war he became a friend of President Grant, practiced law again and later yet was appointed U.S. Consul to Hong Kong by President Hayes. Yet the fact that many of his Union adversaries considered him little better than a bushwhacker or horse thief is particularly ironic since Mosby’s vision was conceived on his concept of honor.
Mosby’s vision, with which he inspired his followers was the basis for his victories. This was that a small fast-moving force, operating with hit and run tactics and founded on what he termed “Southern honor” could not be defeated. By his light, a Southerner was committed to the defense of women, children, and his State by any means, violent if required, and not necessarily in the set piece battles used by the large European armies. In his view, war fought for this purpose of defense and was right and ennobling even if not fought using the conventional tactics of the time. To Mosby, Southern honor encompassed a focus on outward appearance, revenge if demanded, and an adherence to one’s word.
Mosby was in his late twenties when Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. Knowing that invasion of his State was eminent; he rushed to his State’s defense and enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. This was despite that fact that he had publicly opposed both Secession and slavery. He first served as a scout at Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War. His personal bravery and demeanor were noted by his superiors, and he was promoted to lieutenant.
The new officer carried out several important assignments as an independent cavalry scout. However he had an idea for a mounted force which would operate on a continuous basis behind enemy lines. His scouting experiences taught him that mobility was a key ingredient. Using surprise as a weapon he believed he could be successful against enemy forces many times its size.
His previous conduct in battle won a hearing for this concept. Though Mosby was physically unimposing, being 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing only125 pounds, he received authority to form a small unit of cavalry reporting to Confederate cavalry General J.E.B. Stuart, but operating independently. His primary charter was to destroy railroad supply lines between Washington and Northern Virginia and to harass the enemy in any way he could.
Mosby was so successful as a leader that he was promoted steadily. By war’s end he was a colonel. Often large Union forces were taken from other vital missions and sent against him, but he always either evaded or defeated them, capturing many of those who sought to capture him. Robert E. Lee cited Mosby for meritorious service more often than any other Confederate officer during the war.
One of his interesting exploits was the capture of Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton with his entire entourage and 40 horses near Fairfax, Virginia. When told, Lincoln made the famous remarks: “Terrible, terrible. I can easily replace a general, but I don’t know what I’m going to do about those horses.”
On another occasion, Mosby easily evaded superior forces sent to entrap him. Having read about President Lincoln’s well-known sense of humor, he sent Lincoln a lock of his hair as a consolation prize, feeling that he would appreciate the joke. But time and time again, it was his vision of mounted commandos based on Southern honor that Mosby followed as a lodestone and it was this vision that he used to inspire his command.
By this code, violence in the name of self-defense was clearly justified, but deliberate and pre-meditated murder of prisoners of war was not. On Sept. 22, 1864, Union soldiers acting on orders, hanged six of Mosby’s men that they had captured. Murder was outside the bounds of the Southern notion of honor. Revenge killings, however, were not only justified, but required. Within two months, Mosby captured and executed the same number of Union soldiers in retaliation. In a letter to Major General Phillip Sheridan, who then commanded Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, Mosby wrote: “Hereafter any prisoners falling into my hands will be treated with the kindness due to their condition, unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me, reluctantly, to adopt a line of policy repugnant to humanity.” The killings of prisoners on both sides stopped.
Mosby was never captured or defeated, nor did he ever surrender. He disbanded his cavalry after the fall of the Confederacy.
What Is A Vision?
A vision is an all-encompassing picture of the way you want your organization to look in the future. It is the grand goal which guides all the actions of your organization. Without a vision, your organization is as helpless as a rudderless ship. Without a vision, you’ll never get “there” and neither will your organization. Just like the song sang by Bloody Mary in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, “You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?” Bloody Mary was correct. When Martin Luther King declared, “I have a dream,” he spelled out a vision which continues to inspire and make great strides in this country and the world decades after King’s death.
You Can’t Get “There” Until You Know Where “there” is. Your vision is “there.” It must be big enough, important enough, and clear enough to be compelling to your team. If your “there” has these qualities and you are committed to it, like John Mosby, you cannot fail. Moreover, those who follow you will break their necks to help you and your organization get “there.”
What is your vision for your organization?
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THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS
“To be a leader, you have to make people want to follow you, and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t know where he is going.”
– Joe Namath, Hall of Fame Professional Football Player