“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim
earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
I am kind of history buff. I enjoy learning the lessons of the past, hoping I will one day be able to apply these lessons to the future.
I remember being struck by monuments in Gettysburg National Military Park. As I wandered the battlefield, I got the distinct impression that the generals deserved all the credit for the success or failure of the battle. They were responsible, but they didn’t do it alone.
In 1863, Gettysburg was home to 2,400 residents when 175,000 soldiers descended on the small town to engage in what was, at the time, the most important battle of the civil war. Generals get the credit, while 45,000-50,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured. We remember the names of the Generals, but we forget the names of the men that did the fighting.
The Generals were important, but they could not do it alone. General Buford is rightly credited for seizing the high ground on the first day of the battle. But the second day’s battle turned on the actions of a junior officer, Colonel Chamberlain who ordered a charge down little Round Top when his men ran out of ammunition. Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round Top and he was featured in the Army Leadership Manual (FM 22-100) for his actions, but chamberlain did not charge alone.
The order to charge was a desperate effort to hold the line so that the entire army would not be flanked by the Confederates. Chamberlain got the credit, but the 358 men who fought on little Round Top fought the battle, and this is the point.
In the Steward Leader, R. Scott Rodin Wrote:
“As public figures we receive both undue criticism for the failures of our institutions and unmerited praise for their success. The true calling of leadership requires us to accept the former and deflect the latter.” He continued: “Our job is to take the blame for mistakes made by those under our leadership and to deflect the praise by redirecting it to those most responsible for our success…never taking the criticism too personally and not accepting the praise too easily. But this balance is very difficult to maintain.”
Chamberlain deserved the Medal of Honor for his actions. His men were out of ammunition and they were about to be overrun. Because he occupied the extreme right of the Union position, had he been overrun, the confederate army would have flanked the Union Army and the battle may have turned out differently. Had Gettysburg turned out differently, US history may have turned out differently.
Leaders are important. There is no doubt about that, but great leaders recognize that they do not do it alone.
On Memorial Day, 1897, Chamberlain gave an address where he acknowledged this:
Heroism is latent in every human soul….However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all self-denials: privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-long hurts and losses, death itself. –for some deep divine behest, for some great good, dimly seen but dearly held, for which this world must accrue mainly if not wholly to others, and not to themselves. Because they have done these things I reverence these men, whatever their calling.
What About You?
Do you recognize the heroism in the souls of your people? If not, why not?
 Rodin, R. S. (2010). The Steward Leader: Transforming people, organizations and communities. IVP Academic. Downers Grove, IL. (p. 22).
 Chamberlain, J. L. (1897). Two souls – Memorial Day 1897. Retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/twosouls.php