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"The reflective leader: A major lesson from the memoirs..." Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2017 3:25 p.m. PST

….of U.S. Grant

"I recently went to Amazon's book section and found, to my surprise, that it offers 23 different biographies of Ulysses Grant. One of those biographies stood out. It offered strikingly unique insights into leadership because it was written by Grant himself. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant provides leadership lessons that can be obtained nowhere else.

Civil War histories and Grant biographies give the impression that one of Grant's most valuable qualities was his relative imperturbability. The fact that he did not get agitated during the course of the war was a characteristic noticed by many of his subordinates. Sherman would always remember Grant's steadiness after that first horrible day at Shiloh.

Reading Grant's memoirs, however, made me realize that focusing on this aspect of Grant is unsatisfactory in the context of leader development. Recommending Grant's trait of imperturbability to other leaders is the biographical equivalent of a "Keep Calm" poster. One of the key insights of his Memoirs is that Grant taught himself to be steady amid the chaos, uncertainty and bloodshed of warfare by his habit of engaging in reflection. He was willing to spend time reflecting on his experiences and he became very good at it. As his example clearly demonstrates, the process of reflection is both achievable and valuable for people interested in developing themselves as leaders…"
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USAFpilot02 Dec 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

I've read Grant's Personal Memoirs and one other biography. What strikes me most about the Grant story is that at the start of the Civil War Grant had already resigned from the Army as a junior officer. He was a civilian living in obscurity, working as a lowly clerk in his father's business. And yet, in a short period of time he rose to overall commander of all Union forces.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2017 5:53 p.m. PST

I think Grant is one of those people who rise to the top in a crisis – failing the war he would have been just a former soldier working in the retail sector

I also have his Memoirs – great read; one thing that strikes you about him was his absolute coolness in the face of uncertainty

USAFpilot02 Dec 2017 6:44 p.m. PST

…Grant is one of those people who rise to the top in a crisis…

I agree. Your statement reminds me of something I read many years ago about the difference between "peacetime" officers and "wartime" officers. Some men thrive in the bureaucracy of a peacetime military, while others only excel in the crisis of battle. Two different breeds of soldier.

soledad03 Dec 2017 1:25 a.m. PST

I read a book called "the scars of war" by Hugh McManners (great book btw). In it he said the British army after WWII did a study on "who" "made" the best officers. Persones with traits we see as good for soldiers such as aggressiveness, athletic, bold, self confident was not the best officers. When the going got rough and things went against them they tended to fold under the pressure. The best officers were actuallt quiet philosofical persons who enjoyed poetry. No matter the situation they toiled on. They remined calm and just kept on functioning.

I'm not saying this is always true or correct but it seemes to correlate with Grant. A (misunderstand me correctly) person from a dull dreary job who does not get emotional and toils on, keeping ones head on regardless. Therefore makes good decisions as the thinking is clear and calm and "unemotional".

donlowry05 Dec 2017 8:39 a.m. PST

Grant was one of those rare men who, in Kipling's phrase, could keep his head when all about him were losing theirs.

His key word was "determination" -- if at first you don't succeed, try again but in a different way.

Also: Don't complain to higher headquarters; it does no good and annoys headquarters. Take whatever job they give you, and whatever forces, etc., and do the best you can at it.

His motto could have been "nothing ventured, nothing gained." He was never afraid to try something -- and then something else. Sooner or later your opponent will make a mistake. If you do nothing, you are taking the pressure off of your opponent.

And, yes, he learned from his mistakes.

Somewhere in his memoirs he says that he learned early on that the enemy was just as afraid of him and his forces as he was of them and theirs -- a valuable lesson that stuck with him throughout the war.

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