Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009 Gettysburg Staff Ride - Stand 4
(Discussion facilitated by Bill Molumby)

Hancock & Howard – Practical vs. Positional Leadership

If you have read Leading Up by Michael Useem you will be familiar with the dynamics of rank in organizations. Hancock had been appointed by Meade to assume command of the federal troops at Gettysburg. The problem for Hancock was that Howard, then in command, was in positional leadership (28 days Hancock’s superior in rank). Hancock had the practical position. Hancock found himself in a difficult position, one of moving a superior from adversary to ally. Without positional leadership, leading up requires vision, skill as well as respect.

Hancock displayed practical leadership in three ways:

• Vision – He studied the issues and developed a plan of action before arrival.
• Skill - He gained Howard’s agreement by presenting his plan in a way that included Howard in the decision and provided for his dignity.
• Respect – While he had the official order to take the command, he also understood the importance of honor and respect in implementing it.

Ego & pride are under currents in this dynamic between Howard and Hancock. If there is another lesson it is this: We can never afford to let our selves get caught up in the “I” if we care about the “We.”

"I think this is the strongest position upon which to fight a battle, and with your agreement, I select this as the battle-field."
Hancock to Howard, July 1st, 1863


Pam McDonald said...

Nice analogy! "Looking out for our people includes not only those who work for us but also our leaders and peers." (page 48 of "Leading in the Wildland Fire Service")

There is no place for ego and pride in such a high-risk environment as wildland fire suppression. Ego and pride are self-centered attitudes that can compromise safety.

Firefighters at all levels have the duty to lead up.

Hancock was placed in a difficult situation but implemented the art of influence well.

Anonymous said...

We cover it every time anyone talks about the battle and once again we cover Hancock as the "good" guy and Howard as the petty "bad" guy. Yes Hancock does a good job of leading up. Might we also begin to talk about Howard for what he did right and could have done better? Pissed off, passed over and embarrassed in front of his men he still, when confronted with a plan by his new "boss" stepped back and did what he need to do. I think many in the fire world can relate to presenting a boss or even a peer with a plan and having it rejected to show "whos in charge here". Howard did step back and do his job.

Howard is a good example of what petty leadership and human nature looks like when he found out he was not the commander he wanted to be. However he does show, albeit in a grumpy manner, and how to handle being relieved when the new boss arrives. A fire analogy could well be a team in transition with the incoming team making an all new plan, 2 days before they take over. We have many who when they find out the incoming team has different plans become "Howards". Hancock can serve as an example of leading up but while we're there telling the story I think that Howard can serve as an example of what to look for in ourselves as we are being led up and how to handle, and not handle, being overruled. This is especially apropos at the level of employee we have in 520. Lessens in knowing our place as assigned by others, whether we agree with that place or not, is an important an often forgotten skill and while our buddy Gen Howard doesn't handle it to perfection he handles it in a manner that many can (should) relate too. Take care.