Last year I did a three-day series on the Battle of Gettysburg and looked at some lessons that are applicable to a modern day compliance practitioner. As not only did I learn quite a bit about the battle, it seemed to strike a cord with many readers so this year I will continue the tradition. Today I look at Day 1 of this seminal battle of the Civil War.
One of the enduring myths about the battle is that it started over shoes. In the Encyclopedia Virginia, in an entry entitled “Shoes at Gettysburg”, it states, “One of the most persistent legends surrounding battle is that it was fought over shoes… Ten weeks after the battle, Confederate general Henry Heath a Virginian whose troops were the first to engage on July 1, filed a now-famous report in which he explained why he had sent a portion of his division into the small Pennsylvania town. “On the morning of June 30,” Heath wrote, “I ordered Brigadier General [Johnston] Pettigrew to take his brigade to Gettysburg, search the town for army supplies (shoes especially), and return the same day.” That parenthetical phrase “shoes especially” has taken on a life of its own over the years. A 1997 newsletter of the American Podiatric Medical Association is typical — it claimed, perhaps due to its interest in foot health, that footwear was the battle’s causa belli, adding, “There was a warehouse full of boots and shoes in the town.”
Historians have debated this issue ever since. There is no doubt that General Heath “stumbled into this fight” but over some shoes, as he was under orders from General Lee not to enter into a general engagement with Union troops. In the same Encyclopedia Virginia it ends with the following “The Battle of Gettysburg readily lends itself to being read as a three-act tragedy, dominated, as many have argued, by Lee’s hubris. (“The fundamental fault that disfigured his conduct of the campaign,” historian Brian Holden Reid has written, “was that Lee was overly confident and expected too much of his marvelous troops.”) That it started by accident, over something so “pedestrian” as shoes, is too perfect for writers to ignore.”
Whether the battle started over shoes or not, the Confederate Army did ‘stumble into a fight’. I thought about such randomness in the context of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) when I read a couple of recent articles in the Corner Officer section of the New York Times (NYT). In the first article, Adam Bryant interviewed Sabine Heller, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of A Small World, in an article entitled “Can You See the Whole Picture?” One of the points that Heller raised was that, at times, you need to step back to look at the bigger picture. She provided the following example, “You have to manage people based on results and set clear goals. It sounds like a simple thing, but people don’t do that often. When I was 22 and working at UGO, it didn’t matter that I had no experience and it didn’t matter what my process was as long as I hit my goal. It taught me how empowering it is to be treated like that. I am a great manager for people who are strong thinkers and motivated. I empower people. I promote people. I give them a lot of leeway. At the end of the day, I look at results, and that’s it. I feel very strongly that organizations infantilize employees. You should treat them like adults.”
In another Corner Office article, entitled “Joanne Rohde, on Knowing When to Get In, and to Get Out”, Bryant interviewed Joanne Rohde, CEO of Axial Exchange. Some of her thoughts on leadership would certainly apply to Confederate General Lee at Gettysburg. She talked about stepping back, breathing and re-assessing the situation. Bryant quoted her for the following, “I remember a day when the markets went crazy, and all of us were losing money because the volatility was going against us. The guy I worked for said, “You all need to get out of your positions.” We tried to explain to him that this was a temporary thing. He said: “No. You have to get out. A couple of days later, he said something that has really been an important life lesson: “If you get out, you can get in exactly the same way the next day, but you have a clear head.” It was such good advice, and so few people follow it. And it’s really important for both entrepreneurship and leadership — you’ve got to get in and take risks, but you also have to get out, reassess and modify. That, in my opinion, is how you get ahead. You may have a vision of where you’re headed, but it is never a straight line. You take a step and you reassess. That gives you courage.”
The key is that you step back and take another look, perhaps even put a second set of eyes on the issue. In the business world there is nothing that requires immediate assessment and a decision for a compliance practitioner. If there is, it is because there has not been any communication to the compliance function during the months and months of work by the business unit working on a deal. Any company that has that type of culture means the CCO has not developed relationships with the business unit personnel to foster adequate communication. If the China business unit head has never met the CCO, it is certainly time for the CCO to go to China, put on some training and introduce him or herself to Regional Manager (RM).
Both of the articles also had some very relevant points regarding the hiring function and compliance. Heller said that one thing she detests from a candidate is canned responses in the interview process. She wants people who “understand the larger space of the industry we’re in.” But I found her further comments considerably insightful. She said that “And I want to know if that person has been able to come up with an idea, build consensus for that idea and follow it through. I want to see if they are a leader in one way or another, because building consensus for something is very important in the world of business. You need someone who can manage laterally and who can get people on board with their ideas. So I always ask for a time in someone’s career when they have come up with an idea and were able to get people on board, and then executed the idea.”
Rohde had another approach to hiring and interviews which I found discerning. It involved preparing for an interview and how that preparation could lead to persons understanding the compliance function. She said, “The first thing I want to know is, “Why are you here?” Smart people can get lots of job interviews. So I want to know that there’s something unique about our opportunity. There are two reasons I do that. You quickly sort out people who haven’t even done their homework. I remember one person had not even looked at our website. He was mad that I didn’t hire him, but he didn’t even know what we did.
In a small company like ours — 14 employees — you have to be passionate about what we’re doing. Everybody who’s really done well at our company has had a passion for health care and, sadly, often has had a bad experience in the health care system with a family member and wants to change it. So, I’m really looking for that.”
But her next comments spoke to some of the leadership lessons from Gettysburg – Day 1. She was quoted as saying, “I also ask for examples of when you’ve chased a dream, whether you made it or not. Was there something you went for? If it worked, great, but if it didn’t work, how did you retrench? So I’m really trying to learn if the person has that ability or interest to do something that’s not there.” Imagine what might have happened if the Confederate Army had not gone looking for those shoes or General Heath had obeyed Lee’s orders and had not ‘stumbled into a fight’.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014