A Recipe for Disaster Trying Harder with Outdated Technology

The lessons on leadership from Gettysburg continue to abound. That tells you just a bit about how impactful this leadership development program has been for those of us who had the privilege of participating. I want to commend The Lincoln Leadership Institute on utilizing the metaphor of the battle so effectively and for engaging some of the most qualified resources available to lead our team through these discussions.

One of those resources is Dr. Jared Peatman who is one of the leading historians on the Battle of Gettysburg, and maybe on the entire Civil War. I think others in our group thought the same, because I’m sure I overheard a “stump Jared” contest during their dinner conversations one evening. Through all three of my visits I did my best to stay within earshot of Jared as much as possible. Not only does he know his history, he knows people, organizations and leadership, and he is able to make profound connections for his audience.

On one occasion, as we strolled through the battlefield museum at the visitor’s center, several of us stopped by a display of rifles that were used during the Civil War. Jared began to explain the difference in these weapons, comparing smooth bore muskets to rifles, carbines, etc. He mentioned that “rifling” in the barrels of the guns was a fairly new technology at the time of the Civil War, and made a significant difference, especially to the Union forces who were more heavily armed with these weapons than were their Confederate counterparts. He described the ball coming out of a musket being similar to a bowling ball bouncing back and forth down the gutter at the bowling lane, with accuracy of about 100-150 yards on a good day with a good gun. The reloading capacity for a musket was two to three shots per minute. He described the new rifling technology capable of increasing the accuracy up to 250-300 yards, with reloading capacity of up to six shots per minute.

Then he made a statement that stuck with me because of its implications. He said that “we tend to fight today’s wars with our last war’s technology and strategy”. He went on to explain that the leaders of the armies of the Civil War earned their reputations in the Mexican American War, where the musket was the weapon of choice for the soldier. Many of these leaders were unfamiliar with the new rifling technology that had been much improved and utilized in the years after that war. The strategy of “Don’t shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes” worked fairly well for the inaccurate musket, but was a recipe for disaster up against foes armed with rifles. This is likely to be one more reason why there were so many casualties during this war. It also reminds me how crucial it is for leaders to stay current on the technologies and changes that are occurring in their industry, profession or environment, because trying harder with the old strategies designed for old technologies or old environments simply cannot result in victory.

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