The Effective Executive – Lessons from a Civil War General

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We have witnessed many executives who are efficient (doing things right), but few executives are effective (doing the right things). We believe this is misguided and aim to remedy the shortfall with executives.

This is the 14th episode of the Effective Executive podcast. In this episode, Tripp discusses what he learned from a Civil War General. Download our FREE Effective Executive Starter Kit.
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Show Notes

The Effective Executive Podcast – Episode 14

Episode 14 – Lessons from a Civil War General

John Fulton Reynolds

Lesson: You must go to the front lines to observe in order to make good decisions



Tripp Babbitt: [00:00:07] This is the 14th episode of The Effective Executive podcast, and I’m your host Tripp Babbitt, and this week I want to update you on a couple of things I’m releasing on YouTube at the effective executive YouTube channel.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:00:30] A series on W. Edwards Deming’s 14 points, and they’re going to be kind of my read on those 14 points as I’ve implemented them and many different organizations over the years. And hopefully they’ll be helpful to you. I’m going to go ahead and release the first four points and then release one subsequently up to Christmas Eve on the twenty fourth. So you’ll be able to if you’re interested in that type of thing, it won’t be in the podcast, but it is available at YouTube at the effective executive.Just look up that channel. You’ll find a whole bunch of videos actually that I’m making for for YouTube this week.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:01:18] I want to talk about a civil war general that I am kind of a history buff amateur. But I’ve been to Gettysburg a number of times and I love the stories that are associated with that particular battle was quite, quite an amazing thing that happened over three days there in Gettysburg. And because I visit there at least once every couple of years and go around with a tour guide at the Gettysburg National Memorial, I’ve learned a number of things about the different generals and stories about privates and sergeants and just people who did more heroic things during the course of that particular battle over those three days. So anyway, I want to talk about that, and that’s where we’ll begin.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:02:28] John Fulton Reynolds, he was a civil war major general and some called him a soldier’s general. He was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and on June 2nd, 1863. General Reynolds met with Abraham Lincoln, where it was rumored that he was offered to be the commander, to become the commander of the army of the Potomac.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:02:59] Now, he turned it down because he asked Lincoln to keep the politics away. A lot of meddling was going on with some of the previous generals. And in turn, President Lincoln said he couldn’t do that. Now, that’s the rumor. This is one reason I really like John Fulton Reynolds, is because he recognized the poison that politics represented, especially when you’re trying to fight a war. But he was given operational control after that meeting of the left wing of the army of the Potomac. So this basically gave him operational command of the 1st, the 3rd, the 11th cause of the Army of the Potomac. Plus, he was also given the cow, a Calvary division that was headed by General John Buford now. What came next was Gettysburg.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:04:06] And with General Reynolds over these particular divisions, he had General Buford out at Macpherson’s Ridge. Now, if you’ve not been to Gettysburg, you probably you may not know what I’m talking about, but you could look up Macpherson’s Ridge or any of a number of things about the Gettysburg battle. But this is where it all began as the Confederates moved up chambers of Pike, the General Buford, his Calvary ran into them and they were looking at an army of about 60000 confederates versus about twenty five hundred.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:04:47] Calvary, run by General Buford and Buford made a stand because he understood the importance of the land that they were that they were at. And this is an important piece. And this happened on June 1st, 8:00 or excuse me, July 1st, 1863.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:05:10] What happened next was. General Reynolds showed up.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:05:17] And basically relieve General Buford of his command because they’ve been fighting all morning and this was late morning that same day that General Reynolds showed up, but the thing he did and this you could see it all throughout General Reynolds commands, was he was always with his army, with his corps. And in this case, he was shot and killed. Rumors are it was a sharpshooter. That seems to be the general consensus from the Confederate side. Some people think friendly fire. There’s a whole series of things. And that spot is actually marked at Gettysburg where General Reynolds fell, shot through basically the neck and killed almost instantly. So what was so important that General Reynolds, I think, is something applicable to becoming an effective executive? He was there, he felt it was so important to be with his man to see what was happening that he decided that he needed to observe so he could make on the field decisions about what needed to happen next. Now, most executives rarely go to the work until the interaction points between customers and the front line are so underrated by so many executives that they’re incapable of making good decisions without direct observation of what’s happening. And that’s why I suggest that executives spend anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their time in those interactions, either listening or observing what’s what’s happening in them.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:07:13] So that’s the lesson from this particular episode.Now, the rest of the story on General Reynolds was, as I mentioned, he was shot. He fell and died pretty much instantly on the field. He was taken to buried in Lancaster, where he was born at the corner of Lemmon and Lined Street. And actually when I was working with a company out in Lancaster, I went and visited it. It’s a little difficult to find, but Lemon and Lime Street is actually a place. And that’s where he’s buried in Lancaster. So, again, the lesson of this particular episode is you don’t have to put your life on the line, but to understand what’s going on and make good decisions about what’s happening in your organization, one of the requirements of becoming effective executives is to be able to observe the interactions that are happening between your customers and your organization, your front line people, your product, your service as it’s being provisioned. And this will give you insights that you are going to get from a spreadsheet or some report or even a filtered verbal report from someone.


Tripp Babbitt: [00:08:36] I am Tripp Babbitt.You can now download the effective executive starter kit. It’s free at

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