Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cigars, Whiskey, & Winning

Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant...

This analysis of the life, career, and leadership style of one of the United States’ most successful generals (and least successful presidents) is a quick, informative, and thought provoking read.

Using the military career of Hiram Ulysses Grant as a framework author Al Kaltman has created a quick reading combination of biography, historical analysis, and a guide for leaders. By using the life of one of the Civil War’s key figures as a backdrop Kaltman engages the reader by showing that a leader’s effectiveness can be a life and death matter. In doing so the author dodges a common fault of many management and leadership books and creates a connection between common sense practices with real world results.

Such a bracing read may be a little too much for sensitive folks who do not believe managers in their corporation deal with conflict and risk on a daily basis. Those of us in the security trade however not only believe it; we thrive on the fact of it.

Across 11 chapters Kaltman moves chronologically through Grant’s early military career, his failures, his return to the Union Army in 1861, his successful prosecution of the nation’s most disastrous war, and its aftermath. The author breaks the chapters into different lessons:

  • Seize Opportunities
  • Failure
  • Turn Mistakes into Training Opportunities
  • Know Your Competition
  • See the Total Picture
  • Don’t Scatter Your Resources
  • Shatter Paradigms
  • Pounce on Your Competition’s Blunders
  • Focus On What You Could Be Doing
  • Develop an Alternate Plan
  • Always do what’s Right.
All lessons are as applicable today, especially in the guarding industry, as they were some 150 years ago. Some sections – such as “Know Your Competition” – will resonate with those of us who compete for business with peers who once were fellow employees. Others, such as “See the Total Picture” will be valuable to those of us with responsibilities to national accounts and other nationwide programs. Other sections deal with discipline, the value of delegation, and the promotion of staff members – for good and ill – in ways that will ring true to professional security managers.

In the book’s Conclusion Kaltman offers the reader his take on “The Quintessential Grant” by encapsulating the lessons Grant applied throughout his military career:

  • Use the Planning Process to Set Priorities
  • Focus On the Contribution You Could Be Making
  • Be Persistent and Tenacious
  • Identify the Information You Need
  • Create a Thinking Machine
  • Surround Yourself with Good People
  • Remember That the Work Must Be Done By Others
  • Be Considerate and Fair to Your People
  • Make Allies of Those Who Do Not Report to You
  • Recognize That Success Is Temporary
  • Always Act Ethically
  • Trust Yourself To Make Good Decisions.
In his final chapter on Grant’s lackluster presidency Kaltman makes the case that Grant may have failed in political office precisely because he did not apply to political life the same skills he used as a military leader.

Perhaps there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Thucydides, Sun Tzu, and Shakespeare sound very contemporary to the thoughtful reader. Perhaps we have read all this before. Perhaps Kaltman’s gift to the reader is simply to have created a palatable delivery vehicle for common sense leadership methods. Perhaps the rest is up to us.

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