"Summer of '63" Leadership Skills

Allen W. Baldwin reviews what the fire service can learn from military leaders at the Battle of Gettysburg and beyond.


In this article, we are going to get a philosophical and historical as opposed to the usual operational. Currently, I am instructing a "Managing Company Tactical Operations" course series. My class is a mix of seasoned officers, chiefs, young aspiring firefighters and a few new officers. We spend...


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Chamberlain is another notable Gettysburg commander who also realized the importance of his men's position and why they had to hold at all costs. He realized that if he abandoned his position, the enemy would go by and overtake the federal army, endangering not only his men, but possibly the entire federal army. Chamberlain dug in and took a stand following his senior officers' initial orders to hold at all costs. Had he not had the respect and trust of his men and treated them as human beings, and set the example that if it was good enough for the men it was good enough for me, they might not have risen to the task on that day in July on Little Round Top and followed him down the rocky slope unarmed except for a bayonet. Talk about devotion to a leader -- it doesn't get much better than this; your men taking action based on a gutsy, instinctive order without questioning it.

Do we ever have to make gutsy decisions at emergency incidents that could have negative consequences? Lee, Buford and Chamberlain had different styles of leadership, as did the numerous other military leaders at the Battle of Gettysburg. Take the time to visit with these folks through any of the many books that have been written on each of them to gain additional insights to developing and improving leadership skills. Think outside the "fire service box" to help improve your skills.

If all of this seems like ancient history and you prefer a more modern approach, another military leader who details leadership skills and styles is Lieutenant General (ret.) Hal Moore, who with reporter Joseph L. Galloway wrote the book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, which later was made into the movie "We Were Soldiers," about a November 1965 battle that took place during the Vietnam War (see www.lzxray.com). Moore delivered these remarks to his troops: "I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive, but this I swear: When we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead, or alive, we all come home together. So help me God."

Moore offers tactical leadership insights that we can apply to our battles. Some of these insights include conduct in battle, four principles that we can apply to our business (and maybe we should put on an index card in our bunker coat pocket to remind us). The principles are:

  1. "Three strikes and you're NOT out!" A leader can do two things -- contaminate his environment and his unit with his attitude and actions, or he can inspire confidence.
    • Must be visible on the battlefield.
    • Must be in the battle.
    • From battalion commander on down, brigade and division commander on occasion.
    • Self confident.
    • Positive attitude.
    • Must exhibit determination to prevail no matter what the odds or how desperate the situation.
    • Must have and display the will to win by his actions, his words, his tone of voice on the radio and face to face, his appearance, his demeanor, his countenance, the look in his eyes. He must remain calm and cool. No fear.
    • Must ignore the noise, dust, smoke, explosions, screams of the wounded, the yells, the dead lying around him. That is all normal!
    • Must never give off any hint or evidence that he is uncertain about a positive outcome, even in the most desperate of situations.
  2. "There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor -- and after that one more thing, and after that one more thing, etc."
    • In battle, periodically detach yourself mentally for a few seconds from the noise, the screams of the wounded, the explosions, the yelling, the smoke and dust, the intensity of it all, and ask yourself, "What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing to influence the situation in my favor?"
  3. "When there is nothing wrong, there's nothing wrong except -- there's nothing wrong!" That's exactly when a leader must be most alert.
  4. "Trust your instincts." In critical, fast-moving situations, instincts and intuition amount to an instant estimate of the situation. Your instincts are the product of your education, training, reading, personality and experience. When seconds count, instincts and decisiveness come into play. In quick-developing situations, the leader must act fast, impart confidence to all around him and must not second-guess a decision. Make it happen! In the process, he cannot stand around slack-jawed when he's hit with the unexpected. He must face up to the facts, deal with them and move on.

There is much we can learn from great military leaders. We have only scratched the surface here. Take time to look at major conflicts such as the Battle of Gettysburg for the good and bad leadership examples. Learn from the mistakes and wins of these leaders. Next, take a look at what kind of leader you are and what style(s) you would like to have. Look at what you think makes a great leader and then go after it to hone your skills.