Thursday, August 12, 2010


This is not original (is anything?). Someone else pointed out this clip as an example of Robert E. Lee's leadership style, but I cannot remember where I saw it. In this brief clip from the movie Gettysburg, there are principles that emerge regarding how leaders deal with failings and errors in subordinates. By the way, the entire movie is packed with leadership vignettes. It is worth watching again looking for these.

Martin Sheen does a masterful job playing Lee. This clip shows Lee at the end of the 1st day of battle. It is after midnight and obviously the men are exhausted and battle weary. Lee calls Stuart into his office because Stuart and his cavalry have failed their mission, no doubt at the cost of many lives. The error was egregious. But note how Lee handles this situation:

  • This is obviously a difficult situation for General Lee. He does not relish the confrontation, but he addresses the problem squarely, without hesitation.
  • Lee rebukes Stuart for his error. He allows for no excuses. Stuart is responsible, no one else. As a leader, Jeb Stuart must take responsibility for his failures.
  • Lee doesn't just rebuke. He tells how and why the error was so costly. He delineates the consequences of the mistake.
  • At the same time, Lee recognizes the worth and value of Stuart. He will not allow him to resign or to dwell on the dressing down. In fact, Lee uses the opportunity to teach leadership lessons to his general. He says, "You must take what I have told you and learn from it, as a man does." He will not allow Stuart to resign, but after the rebuke, begins to build him up.
  • Once the matter is addressed, it is over. "We will speak no more of this." says Lee. The clip closes with a look of wonder and admiration on Stuart's face.

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