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Studies in Effective Leadership: U.S. Grant

Posted by admin January - 25 - 2021 - Monday

Since I was a boy, I have loved reading biographies…. particularly of famous people. In my youth, it was guys like Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. These days I am still reading about successful men— who have proven themselves to be outstanding leaders. This post will begin a series of blogs about some of those men, and women, who proved themselves to be effective leaders. Hopefully, it will cause you to evaluate your own leadership skill level and… to study in more detail what made these leaders so great!

Recently, I came across an article about U.S. Grant. It was a study in his leadership style during his military career. There is a tremendous correlation between a military leader and a football coach. What I will share with you has a direct effect on how you conduct your program. The question poses by the author was: “What made U.S. Grant such a great general?

If you don’t know much about American Civil War history, let me give you a quick synopsis. For the first 2 years of the war (1861-83), the South and its commanding general, Robert E. Lee, had run circles around any commanding general that President Lincoln threw up against the Confederate forces. Out-manned and out-witted, the Northern army appeared to be hopelessly overmatched in leadership and battle strategy by Lee and his staff of officers. Fortunately for the North, Lee took a calculated risk and then blundered in the Battle of Gettysburg and lost to Union General George Meade. Even then, with the Confederate army in full retreat, Meade refused to “finish the job” and let Lee and his army escape back into Virginia. Lincoln had had enough. Meade was the 6th commander that he had fired since the war started just two years earlier. Enter one Ulysses S. Grant onto the scene. Lincoln put Grant in charge of the Union army and told him to crush Lee. Over the next year and one half, that is exactly what Grant did. The leadership skills Grant exhibited saved the union. His ability to wage war put an end to the Southern effort to form their own nation. We have a lot to be thankful for. Let’s look at those characteristics which Grant exhibited:

1- Grant had tremendous knowledge of tactics, strategy, troops (personnel) and deployment of those troops. A coach must be a “Student of the Game” if he is to be successful. Just because he watches ESPN doesn’t give him the expertise he needs in developing strategy and tactics necessary to be a winning football team. Grant graduated from West Point. He was properly trained in war-fighting. More importantly, he applied that training on the battlefield. As a coach…. do you know how to attack defenses with the offense you run? Do you know which blitzes to use in different situations? Do you know which positions are most important and get your best athletes aligned there? Do you know which defensive alignment best suits your personnel? This is all extremely important for a Head Coach.

2- Grant was unflappable. He did not bend to public opinion. He did not let the mystique that Robert E. Lee had created intimidate him. During a battle, Grant remained aloof (not in a bad way— rather, he stayed unemotional so he could be clear-headed and make calculated moves) and focused. How do you react when things take a turn for the worse during a game? How do you react after a bad call by an official? How do you react when your team goes up by 3 touchdowns?!

3- Grant knew his prime objective. In war, it’s simply to defeat the enemy army. Grant took a “whatever it takes to win” attitude. He not only kept his prime objective in the front of his mind but he also knew HOW to achieve it. He knew how to utilize the resources he had available to overwhelm his opponent. Grant simply smashed the South’s ability to wage war. Do you know the best way to achieve success as a coach? What do you know about Psychology and Sociology? What do you know about Principles of Learning? What do you know about Principles of Motivation? What do you know about principles of organization? All of these are critical to a leader’s success.

4- Finally, Grant kept pressing. He was relentless. Grant took the battle to Lee’s army until he overwhelmed them. That was something that the 6 previous Commanders of the Army of the Potomac had failed to do. Grant took a “Never give up… never give in” attitude! Not every battle he fought against Lee was a resounding success. Grant lost a lot of men during his time as commanding general of the Union forces. But he would not let up. He pressed and he squeezed Lee’s army until he finally forced them to give up the fight. It was not easy. It took almost 2 years to complete the victory but Grant was unwavering in his commitment to his plan. You need to portray the same persistent attitude. In my case, it took 5 years to “turn around” the program I was leading. I would not give up. In the 6th year, we went 7-3 and THAT was the worst regular-season record we had over the next 15 years! As Philippians 3:14 says, “Press on…”

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