Ignoring Robert E. Lee
Q: How can a senior leader encourage junior leaders to act and make decisions when they find themselves without specific guidance? How can a junior leader know when it's right to take charge?
General John Buford didn't wait for orders at the battle of Gettysburg and gained the high ground for the Union army. But some leaders who acted autonomously at Gettysburg were not so successful.
General Daniel Sickles ignored the command sent by General George Meade and endangered the Union army. On the Confederate side, General Richard Ewell did not follow up after pushing Buford back, even though Robert E.Lee sent a message suggesting he do so. This might have cost the Confederacy the position on Cemetery Hill taken by Buford. Because he was away with his cavalry on an entrepreneurial raid, General Jeb Stuart was not present to help Ewell and Lee lacked knowledge of the enemy Stuart should have provided.
For senior leaders deciding when to empower a junior leader, there are two lessons from Gettysburg.
First, communicate your purpose clearly and make sure it is understood. Neither Meade nor Lee communicated effectively to Sickles and Ewell.
Second, know your junior leader's personality and capabilities. Historian James M. McPherson suggests that if Stonewall Jackson rather than Ewell had received Lee's ambiguous orders, he would have continued the attack. Some leaders are risk takers. Others are more conservative.
There are no rules for junior leaders about taking charge. It depends on judgment and courage. Some are cautious and want to avoid being blamed for a mistake. Others recognize that that the future belongs to the bold.
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