Some of the best things about a business school like Darden, nestled in the rich cultural heritage of Virginia, are the fabulous relationships it builds and fosters with great institutions like the US Marine Corps. What started as an experiment last year with only a handful of Second year students evolved into an experiential leadership course for more than 200 first year students at the Battlegrounds of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.
Last weekend saw us travel to Gettysburg. Being welcomed by the dean of the US Marine Corps academy, wining and dining in the 18th century extravagance of the ghost town of Gettysburg, and most pleasantly experiencing undiluted chivalry all around in the form of chairs being pulled and doors being opened, was an interesting twist to the MBA experience. We battled wind chills of -10 degrees centigrade, defended ourselves from rain that attacked through numbed skin, and walked staff rides in the expansive battlefields, humbled by the conditions that soldiers fought wars in before modern warfare.
When I first bid for the course “Business & Leadership lessons – the battlefields of Gettysburg”, I wasn’t even quite sure how the two related. The more I acquainted myself with the American civil war, the north and the south, the cause each valued, the battles, the decisions, and the outcomes, the more clear it became to me how numerous business lessons could explode from one cannon fire of a strategic decision made by the Generals of both the union and the confederacy.
I was overwhelmed with the plethora of parallels in business leadership that were waiting to be made using strategic battlefield decisions. Be it understanding “Key Terrain” in a battle which directly translated to “competitive advantage in an industry”, to how General Meade of the north “manages diversity of commanders’ character” in his army to how a CEO “leverages diversity of thought and talent in an organization”, there were inferences everywhere to be drawn.
Never truly understanding why people needed to fight wars in the first place. You would think that constructive conversation, talk, and debate could bring all the peace in the world. Clearly I choose to remain naive and idealistic when history is testimony to two world wars, several bigger/smaller/medium sized wars in the recent past and present, rendering peace talks quite irrelevant in modern warfare.
In the end, what really stuck with me on the bus ride back home with 100 other exhausted classmates was how we all will face situations in classrooms, the workplace, our organizations, our social networks, and our professional & personal worlds, which will demand us to go to war… but can the unique leadership style we develop at Darden enable us to resolve conflicts with tact and peace?