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The Washington Strategy

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The Washington Strategy

In business and in life, we can learn a lot from military leaders.

General Longstreet of the Southern army in the US Civil War, had battle strategies that were years ahead of their time. He believed in focusing on the mission (the outcome), and only on the mission. If fighting could be avoided, all the better. If Commanding Officer General Lee had followed Longstreet’s advice at Gettysburg, the Confederates may have prevailed, and North America would now be two separate countries.

In the war, the respective armies of the North and South basically wandered around until they met each other, and when they did, they had a fight. The two opposing armies did just this at a little town called Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1863.

Picture the scene – it is Wednesday 1st July, 1863. The Northern army have arrived first and seize the higher ground to the north west of the town, the Southern Army of North Virginia are to the south.

The scene is ready for a battle and Lee prepares to order an assault against his better placed opponents. Lee was in good spirits, with a stunning record of victories behind him, an army that worshipped him and, as he often said, God on his side.

Then along came James Longstreet, Lee’s “war horse,” who pointed out that Washington, capital of the North, was to their east, and as their aim was to force the Northern politician’s to call a truce on Southern terms, invading Washington would bring that mission closer. And, well, if they actually took Washington…

It wasn’t so much that Lee didn’t trust Longstreet, it was more that after a long march the “boys are up for a fight.”

And so they did  – the battle of Gettysburg – over three days, with over 46,000 casualties, and the South never recovered.

Over 150 years ago, a 42 year old from South Carolina dared to suggest a different course of action to the norm. He focused on achieving their stated outcome, on what the South actually wanted to achieve, at the expense of habitual behaviour.

Longstreet died, aged 83, still believing that he was “right.”

I know you can’t hear this now, General, but you were, and I for one thank you for the lesson focus on your outcome!

With my love and best wishes


11 Responses to The Washington Strategy

    • Tony, this story is not telling you to focus on the now, its about being clear about the future and stick to it.

  1. Focussing on something is the only way to get it done IMO.
    Deviate from that thinking and you are finished in terms of achieving that goa.

  2. This short story is a classic example of understanding the “higher Intent”, that is to say what is the focus of the effort or the desired end sate. This anecdote confirms how all team members, at all levels; need to understand what the focus is for the team and not merely their role or position in the team. Clarity and sense of purpose maintains this focus.

  3. It is not always the case that people are told what they must focus on.
    the scattergun approach to business is not something that should be allowed to continue but it goes on a lot.
    So focus must come from above, in the hierarchy.

  4. Scattergun approaches can work but more structure is needed in my experience.
    Focus on the here and now, not what you have to do later.

  5. Good lesson. Although there is another lesson and possible counter argument from the 2nd World War that focuing on the outcome may not be the best solution unless your all clear on it. In this case the Allies reaching Berlin as soon as possible. Paton and Montgomery wanted to get to Berlin first at the expense of the other to cover themselves in glory, this contributed to the unncessary countless loss of British, Commonwealth and US forces and the Soviets still beat them too it anyway. So the lesson here is for teams ensure you all understand and agree on the outcome and don’t try to steal the glory for yourself at the expense of the team. I am sure if Paton and Montgomery had worked together more then not only would the war have ended sooner it would have saved many soldier and civilian lives, had a Western first presence in Berlin and quite possibly prevented the separation of Germany and the misery of millions of Berliners following the building of the Berlin Wall. History is full of these lessons so use them.

  6. Then there is the Falklands which was not clearly thought out but we won nonetheless, more by luck than judgement.
    So while the objectives weren’t that clear, it was still a victory won because the right people did the right things in the moment.
    We almost didn’t make it.

  7. The Falklands was another matter altogether. There was leadership, although misguided.
    There were a lot of brave men who were killed because of a lack of leadership – although that was at the scene of battle and not necessarily back at command.
    Very sad episode in my opinion and nothing to be proud of in many ways. So many lost lives,

  8. The Falklands would have been won by us in any case. We might have lost more soldiers in the process but we would have won eventually, no bother.

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