Saturday, November 20, 2010


One of my favorite books about leadership is John Keegan’s “Mask of Command” In the book he talks about my favorite Civil War general, U.S. Grant.  According to the book, Lincoln picked Grant to command his armies because Grant was a fighter. Grant fought in a way that was neither heroic like Alexander nor anti-heroic like Wellington (as also described in the book). He confined himself to doing and saying as little as possible in front of his men. Grant received a familiar reverence from his men. Grant led from the rear when he could help it—and he always rode alone. Grant did not lead by example according to Keegan but he led by other means. First and foremost he communicated orders through the written dispatch—often transmitted by telegraph. Grant also had the keen ability, through his study of previous campaigns to see into the mentality of his opponents—he also valued information on the enemy and collected it from many sources. Grant believed in the strategy of baseless campaigning, which although dangerous, allowed him to strike deep into the enemy’s territory. Grant was constantly moving during battle pushing his men towards the enemy. Above all—and unlike many American Generals, Grant knew how to win a battle.
In the end, according to Keegan, Grant was legendarily modest.  This combined with his triumphs in battle made him a national hero and eventually President.  His soldiers revered him and Grant displayed un-heroic heroism—which was perfectly suited to those he led.