The gift of leadership
Go on the offense
As I’m writing this, Halloween has just passed, and Thanksgiving is upon us. And as most of you are reading this, our Christmas Day holiday is at hand. Life is hard, and business is still tough, but not tougher than the American people and our construction industry. We share a heritage that makes us what we are today. This month as we celebrate things material and spiritual, and present gifts to one another, there is a unique and special gift for us: the gift of leadership.
As the old saying goes, “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.” Did you know that George Washington was almost nothing more than a mere footnote in history? Almost. But we remember him today as the great leader he was, such as in the famous painting of him crossing the Delaware River Dec. 26, 1776. That act begs the question of why he crossed the river then and attacked the British, and what were the implications for us today?
What was he facing as Christmas approached? Washington’s army had lost more than half of its men to illness, desertion and enlistment expirations. He had an urgent need to inspire his troops with the confidence they lacked, and quickly. He also had lost the confidence of several member of Congress, who had reason to question his leadership, as the war was going badly. Yes, badly. The idea of a “United States” was hanging by a thread. He knew that a surprise attack ending in victory could do that. And, he knew that, in a few more days, he had even more enlistments that were expiring.
Washington’s forces got into their boats on the evening of Dec. 25, and began the crossing of the river in the midst of a snowstorm that then changed to sleet. Meanwhile, the enemy’s soldiers were nice and comfortable, enjoying a night’s sleep. Avoiding ice floes, most of Washington’s men continued across the river, although some of his artillery and other soldiers could not.
The weather was so bad that the attack, originally planned to occur under the cover of darkness, did not actually begin until 8 a.m. in broad daylight. In spite of that, the troops of the Continental Army suffered only light casualties, while the enemy had 100 of their own killed or wounded, and another 900 captured. They also lost six cannons, 40 horses and a huge amount of supplies, all of which were seized by Washington.
This marked the first victory of Washington’s command over a regular – professional – army in the field. They defeated professional soldiers, actually, mercenaries. The troops were inspired. In fact, they were so inspired that many reenlisted, and new enlistments soared. This was a huge turning point in the war.
This type of leadership, fortunately for us, occurred not only once in our country’s history, but has recurred as often as situations dictate and our people need it. Consider another famous battle during the month of December 1944: The Battle of the Bulge.
During a German offensive, the 101st Airborne was encircled in the town of Bastogne, France. The enemy had them surrounded, and in such a bad situation, that the German commander sent a message to the American commander demanding that he immediately surrender or face annihilation. What follows is one of the greatest quotes ever to come from that war. U.S. Major General Anthony McAuliffe typed a reply. Here’s how it went:
To the German Commander
From the American Commander
The Americans who delivered the message explained to the Germans receiving it that the one-word message could be translated as, “Go to hell!” Heavy fighting continued, and the 101st held on, not without cost.
According to Wikipedia, this last major German offensive had cost them 120,000 men, 1,600 planes and 700 tanks. The Allies lost 80,000 killed, wounded or missing in action – 75,000 of them being American. As such, it was the single-greatest battle toll in U.S. history.
As you read this, are you hunkered down in your own comfy quarters, with freezing weather outside, and maybe even a wolf at the door. You have some competitors out there who are in the same situation. They are scared and intend on remaining in their bunkers, hoping that things will all just go away and magically get better. But you know differently.
You realize that you are the product of a glorious history, you still live in a fabulous country, and you have the freedom to do things that others in our world can only imagine. And so, as 2012 approaches, I lay this challenge before you: Go on the offense.
Will you, like your forebears, seize the opportunities that you have to increase or maintain market share? Or will you leave those to others? Somebody will seize that opportunity, because somebody always does.
It comes down to this: Even though it’s nasty outside, freezing cold, and no sane person would dare go out in it, how about you? Will you get into the boat? And, when others insist that you are crazy, that you are “surrounded” by debt, little work and a nasty economy, will you give in? Or, will you remember the leaders who came before you, spilled their own blood and that of the men they commanded, and have bestowed on you, as a gift, fully paid by them, the mantle of leadership you now wear in your business, and simply say to them: “NUTS!”
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours from Coach Gary.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.