I have been a Civil War nut, or actually a history nut, for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite books when I was just learning how to read was about famous Native American chiefs. I truly fell in love with the Civil War from the moment I first learned about it though. Perhaps it was because my family and I traveled to places like Antietam when I was a kid, so it all seemed more real and easier to envision.
Studying the Civil War over the course of a lifetime is like having a favorite book or movie that you keep coming back to. Every time I read a book, every time I watch Ken Burns’ series, every time I think about the events of that whole time period, I learn something new about what is going on in the world now.
My brother got me the DVD set of the Ken Burns Civil War series for my birthday a couple of months ago, and I find that I am completely transfixed by it. I am hypnotized by Shelby Foote’s tales and his glistening eyes. I am enveloped in thought as I try to imagine if we could ever travel down those awful paths again. But I also find that very new thoughts are coming into my head. The series focuses a great deal on the struggle Abraham Lincoln had in finding the right kind of general, and I think looking at his generals can be highly instructive for anyone, whether for marketing or for life. So here is what I think we can learn from Lincoln’s random assortment of generals. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Winfield Scott: Winfield Scott represents to me an example of someone who tries to get by on past successes. During the Mexican War, Scott was a great hero. He had made a name for himself as a great general in that war. You would think that he would have been a great asset by the time the Civil War came along, but instead, Scott had become so overweight he couldn’t mount a horse. He represents what happens when you get too much applause and take it too much to heart. When new opportunities come, you will not be ready. You will still be living in your triumphant past.
Henry W. Halleck: Halleck is often described as a very administrative sort of leader. He was a paperwork kind of fellow. But what Halleck represents to me is jealousy. Early in the war, when US Grant first started winning victories for the Union side, Halleck became envious. He spread rumors about Grant. After Shiloh, even though Grant won the battle, Halleck removed him because the victory had been too costly – or at least that was Halleck’s version of the story. It seems incomprehensible that people on the same team would undercut each other so, and yet we live in such a competitive society these days that it seems difficult to promote ourselves while also applauding others.
George McClellan: I would love to see a psychologist write about McClellan. He was almost unmatched when it came to raising self-esteem, setting the groundwork for success, earning the love and respect of those who needed to follow him, and testing those whom he led. He became so loved so early on for his training of the Army of the Potomac that he wrote home to his wife and said, “I feel like I could be a dictator, but I don’t want to be one, so I won’t be a dictator.” The guy was convinced that he was Napoleon reincarnated. And yet, for all of that, he couldn’t execute. He lashed out at those who asked him to implement his plans. He built demons that prevented him from moving. There is so much we can learn there. We can learn that sometimes timidity is more dangerous that bravery. We can learn that ego can be the enemy of success. We can learn the value of tangible research to balance whatever our minds come up with as the new reality.
US Grant: One might think that the only things we could learn from Grant would be good things. However, Grant’s life is primarily a story of failure, and even after his victorious run as general, he died in poverty after one of the most corrupted presidencies in American history. Why did this happen? Sherman once said of Grant that Grant doesn’t really take note of what’s happening around him. Another famous quote is that Grant always looks like he’s going to have to break a wall of brick with his head. Grant was pragmatic. He won during the Civil War because he knew lots and lots of men would have to die, and he was willing to sacrifice them. He was not after glory. He just wanted to end the war. He wanted to be on the winning side. So he plowed ahead. In today’s world this can be particularly dangerous. Grant’s later presidency exemplifies this. He did not take note of what was happening around him. Had he done so, he might have been able to dampen some of the larger scandals that ended up blackening his name.
How can we apply these lessons to the business world?
So what can these strange men teach us about marketing? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
• Are you avoiding trying something new because what you have always done worked just fine?
• Are you assuming you are still in fine shape because you are doing what succeeded for you five years ago?
• Are you working in an environment of silos where only one person or one department receives credit for success?
• Are you letting your personal ambitions get in the way of team success?
• Are you refraining from trying new things because you’re just sure something awful would happen?
• Are you plowing ahead without noting what your competitors and customers are doing around you?
Of the men listed above, only Grant could really proclaim himself successful. However, none of the other men saw so many of their men die on the battlefield as Grant did.
What kind of campaign are you waging? What kind of general are you?