[August 30, 2020] At the Battle of Cowpens, January 1781, American Revolutionary General Daniel Morgan fought the British and won. After repeated losses to the British, American forces were demoralized, beaten, and poorly lead. Morgan changed the way Americans fought, and for this, we can learn what traits it takes for a senior commander to win.
What were those traits that made Morgan into such a formidable figure to be reckoned with? What did he do to fight the British and win? Was it the courage of his fighting force? Was it his courage and skill? I believe most historians would agree that courage and skill were not the reasons the Americans won this particular battle. There are several leadership lessons we can take away.
- A true leader sets the conditions for success. A senior commander (or any business leader) sets the circumstances to win before the battle takes place. Those that win only because of the courage or stamina of their soldiers are poor commanders. The best commanders are those that set the conditions for victory.
- Courage is a vital component of leadership. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to confront it. For successful commanders, it means the ability to think and act correctly under intense pr3essure. Courage matters, whether on the battlefield or in the corporate board room.
- Inspire your Team. Optimism, cheerfulness, confidence, and determination are the traits that allow us to succeed in the face of adversity. Those teams facing failure, defeat, or any loss, need inspired leaders. That leader must communicate by his words, actions, and attitude that the task can be accomplished, that the team will succeed, and treat the goal is worthy of sacrifice.
- Know yourself, your enemy, and your team. Sun Tzu once wrote that “If you know your enemies and know youres3elf, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” If a leader takes the time to study and learn about his team and enemies (the competition), then he will be successful. Thus, by having a keen understanding of the psychology of soldiers on your team and a firm grasp of the techniques of achieving your goal, a leader cannot fail.
- Communicate your plans and intentions. Communicate your ideas to those that work for you. Explain what you plan to do in terms the team can understand. Make sure to discuss what is expected, as well as what might happen and what to do about it. This allows every person to act with full knowledge that they are doing the right thing.
- Lead by example and be at the right place to make decisions. Show your team that you are willing to experience the same deprivations as they. Knowing where to be in the think of the action is a vital talent of a true leader. Leaders cannot be everywhere, but they can be at a decisive point.
- When it comes to leadership, bet on the people. Select the right people for leadership positions if you expect to win. Selecting the correct folks to lead teams is one of the most important decisions a leader can make.
The Battle of Cowpens and the history of Brigadier General Daniel Morgan is not well known today. I’m not so sure why. But his exploits before, during, and after the American Revolution should be nothing short of an inspiring story in itself.