Staff rides are on-location training events that began in the U.S. military at the turn of the last century. Officers visited and analyzed battlefields to better understand past - and especially future enemies. Today, Corporate Staff Rides bring executives to a select battlefield to study the decisions of the campaign for the purpose of drawing parallels between those decisions and their corporate priorities.
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I appreciate corporate retreats and motivational speakers as well as corporate classrooms, online programs, and other interactive initiatives. Yet, even in our digitally driven age, nothing beats actually being there - where something historically important happened - for sparking the kind of face-to-face conversations among colleagues that can help frame the leadership issues we all face.
Imagine walking behind Antietam Creek and standing where General McClellan watched as his Corps commanders battered Lee's army and discussing the trade-off between the advantage of surprise vs. disruption in the marketplace. Or, standing next to the redoubt defense system at Saratoga and reflecting on the relevant role of technology/engineering and innovation in one's own corporation.
You don't have to know or care about military affairs to take a business lesson from the battlefield because at heart, the Corporate Staff Ride addresses perennial senior management questions:
- What is the responsibility, and risk, of exhibiting personal initiative?
- Why are some leaders able to exploit opportunity, while others remain frozen in a rapidly changing situation?
- How can I harness chance and wield it for my good fortune?
Corporate staff rides battlefields are selected for their relevance to the participants' concerns and goals. The Corporate staff rides leader weaves the battlefield's history and personalities together to encourage unvarnished conversation about the group's real time management issues by discussing questions such as:
- Did this commander make the right decision at this point in the battle?
- What would I have done based on the available information?
- Did the subordinates perform as expected and fulfill their responsibilities to the leader?
Battlefields contain some of history's most difficult stories, but they are uniquely equipped to inspire our preparation for the challenges of tomorrow. This requires looking at and listening to what these sites can teach us. The choice is easy because studying the past is as relevant for today's corporate leaders as it is for military commanders.
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Steven L Ossad is the founder of Applied Battlefield Concepts LLC which adopts military training tools for top managers. Author of "Major General Maurice Rose: World War II's Greatest Forgotten Commander" and an award-wining military historian, he worked as a Wall Street sell-side technology analyst for more than 20 years.