What Historic Battles Show Members about Leadership at February Breakfast Meeting

February 17, 2016 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

February Breakfast

Leadership from a different perspective.

That was the main course at the Greater Lexington Chamber’s February breakfast on Tuesday morning.

The speaker was Mike Chibbaro of Battlefield Leadership, a company known for taking business leaders to historic battle sites and using history to teach leadership. While Chibbaro was unable to take the breakfast audience to a battlefield, he did an admirable job of bringing the battlefield to them.

“We’re equipping today’s leaders for tomorrow’s challenges using the lessons of history,” said Chibbaro, who serves as partner and business facilitator with Battlefield Leadership. “It’s more engaging than sitting in a hotel conference room watching somebody click a PowerPoint.”

Battlefield Leadership takes clients to places like Gettysburg and Normandy, so that was the idea when Chibbaro spoke about two of his favorite military leaders. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Civil War soldier, who played a prominent role in the Battle of Gettysburg, and George Catletta Marshall helped change the culture of the United States military heading into World War II.

Both men possessed the “Three C’s,” – character, confidence and courage, which Chibbaro believes to be essential in effective leaders. He described confidence as “being good at what you do” and courage as “having the guts and intestinal fortitude to make tough decisions.” He talked about character as being “the little moments that happen every day to stamp and engrave who we are as individuals.”

“I think character is what is so absent in leadership today,” said Chibbaro, a former senior partner with the global accounting and advisory firm of Ernst & Young. “We’re missing in society today those leaders that understand the importance of character.”

Character is something Chamberlain and Marshall both had in spades, one reason Chibbaro believed they were such outstanding leaders.

Chamberlain was a professor with strong views on slavery when the Civil War began. He also had a passion in his heart to serve his country, so he volunteered and enlisted in the military.

The role Chamberlain played in the epic Battle of Gettysburg may not be well known, but it was perhaps more significant than any other. Coming into the battle, things weren’t going well for the Union Army. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was leading his soldiers to victory after victory. But that all came to a decisive halt at Gettysburg, when Chamberlain was told to defend Little Round Top at all costs. Intense hand-to-hand fighting defined the battle.

The turning point came when Chamberlain was told the Union soldiers were out of ammunition. Chamberlain remained calm and made the decision to launch perhaps the most famous counterattack of the Civil War. He led a bayonet charge, courageously driving the Confederates down the hill, protecting Little Round Top and defending Gettysburg.

Chibbaro then conveyed the rest of the story of Chamberlain, who was chosen to oversee the parade of surrender at the conclusion of the war. As the parade was occurring, Chamberlain commanded the Union soldiers to give a full sword salute in honor of the fallen enemy. The Confederate soldiers were deeply moved by this gesture, and they spread the word around the country, saying it was like he had given our country back in that moment.

One of the most telling things about Chamberlain, the man, is that among the 1,400-plus monuments at Gettysburg, none are for Chamberlain himself despite the vital role he played in that battle. He didn’t want one.

That humility is a characteristic also personified by Marshall, known as the organizer of victory and the architect of peace during and following World War II. Marshall won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Marshall struggled in school early on, while his brother went to VMI. He heard his brother telling their mom one day not to allow George to go to VMI, because he would embarrass the family. That comment inspired Marshall, who did go to VMI, where he was very successful before going into the Army. Marshall’s success continued to cultivate, but slowly at first.

Marshall served in WWI, then rewrote the manuals that ended up being how the United States fought battles in WWII. Given the opportunity prior to WWII, Marshall spoke the truth to President Roosevelt when nobody else did, telling the President his plan was a mistake. Roosevelt recognized Marshall’s leadership potential and chose him to lead the Army. At the time, the U.S. was ranked 17th in the world in terms of military power in the world.

Up to that point in time, promotions in the military had been based primarily on seniority. Marshall changed that, taking senior military officers out of their jobs and replacing them with younger men. Marshall recognized what people were good at, and he put them in position to succeed. He’s been called the greatest selector of talent ever. Marshall knew how to find talent, and he knew how to get it in the right spot.

“Leadership at its core is really about service and sacrifice,” Chibbaro said. No two men embodied that better than Chamberlain and Marshall.

The breakfast was sponsored by Palmetto Health and catered by Crescent Moon Restaurant.