Anyone who has managed remote workers since the pandemic began has likely had nagging questions about what their employees are doing all day. Is my team working or watching Netflix? When was the last time I spoke to all of them? Bosses take comfort in seeing their teams together in one workplace; it’s the instantaneous way of ensuring that employees are, in fact, getting the job done. The reality, however, is that the days of watercooler chat and working lunches in conference rooms are waning.
Distance is a hurdle leaders must overcome if they are to succeed. Any boss who believes they can lead through email is doomed to fail. Leaders must make the effort to gather their teams by whatever means possible – through offsites, periodic meetings in the office, or a Zoom call to communicate their intent. Imparting a vision for the way forward with a clear definition of what winning looks like is the cornerstone of any leader’s job description. If there is no intent, the organization will be rudderless. The lack of clear direction will always be felt; it will be sharper if team members are far flung.
The Battles of Saratoga in the fall of 1777 offer a clear example of how not to lead at the strategic level. The Revolutionary War was well into its second year. In London, King George III and his government were irritated, their patience worn razor thin. The king was ready to listen to anyone who offered what sounded like a viable plan. His commander in chief in North America, General Sir William Howe, pledged to take Philadelphia and capture the Continental Congress to force a surrender. Dismissive of Howe’s abilities and eager to gain fame for himself, General John Burgoyne proposed a different plan. He would lead a separate army south from Canada into upper New York to gain control over the Hudson River, linking with Howe’s army headquartered in New York City. With that accomplished, Burgoyne promised to divide and conquer the colonies and force them into submission. The king was persuaded. Burgoyne got his army.
Burgoyne gleefully sailed for Canada assuming the government would instruct Howe to support him and coordinate their efforts. Orders were dispatched, but they lacked clarity, and the time they took to reach Howe meant that Burgoyne would be on his own. Making matters worse, neither George III nor his government ever defined a vision of what victory looked like. Were his generals obliged to wage total war to bring the Americans to their knees, or were they seeking a negotiated settlement? What restraints were there in the war’s conduct?
Burgoyne felt he had free reign to pursue his invasion as he saw fit. It was a disaster. Having received a fraction of the troops and supplies he was promised, he plunged deep into northern New York. He issued proclamations promising pardons to all colonists who joined him. When no one flocked to his banner, he threatened the Americans with violence. As his progress bogged down in the dense forests just north of Saratoga, Burgoyne sent a string of pleas for help to his colleagues in New York City. First, they ignored him. Then, they moved at a snail’s pace in a half-hearted attempt that was in no way helpful. By September 1777, as his soldiers stumbled into a clearing at Freeman’s farm, Burgoyne was incensed that he had only silence to support him. Two battles and several weeks later, he was forced to surrender.
The Battles of Saratoga offer lessons that underscore the need for leaders to communicate clear intent from the top down and to provide their teams with a vision of what the end state looks like. Join us for Battlefield Leadership’s Saratoga program to walk in Burgoyne’s footsteps and understand why these battles were the turning point in the American Revolution. You will never take communication for granted again.
We will see you on the battlefield.
Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help your team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 864.386.9637.