Monday, January 28, 2013

The Silent Boss

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Sometimes the best thing for a boss to say is nothing at all. Or more precisely, to clarify what is to be achieved, but to remain silent on how to achieve it.

I consider my organization to be a "small staff" association. Others with one or two staff people may be envious of our ten staff positions, but I think of ten as small because it requires everyone to wear multiple hats, and to assume positions of team leadership for different projects at different times.

Sometimes I'm the team leader, and that relatively easy for everyone because I'm the boss, and it's natural for me to be in a position of leadership. At other times another staff person is the team leader, and that's still easy as long as I'm not a member of the team. If everyone's a peer, than they can all professionally agree that one of them will have responsibility to team progress and project objectives.

But when someone else is the team leader and I'm on the team--that's when things can get complicated.

It's complicated for them because I'm the boss, and there's a natural tendency to assume that I'm going to know what the right thing is to do in every circumstance. And even if what I say isn't right, it's still the thing to do because I said it. There are a number of anecdotes I could relay about initiatives that have moved forward because there was a collective sense among staff that it was what I wanted done; when the idea, in fact, was half-baked and crazy, tossed out only because I thought we were brainstorming and I was just a member of the team.

And that's why it's complicated for me. Brainstorming and testing out conflicting ideas is part of the process of determining what the right thing to do is. But I can't fully participate in that process because everything I say is going to be given a different weight than what other people say. Even prefacing my comments with things like "Now, this is just an idea," or "I'm just thinking out loud" has limited utility. People may understand that they don't have to do the next thing that comes out of my mouth, but there is still an unwillingness among some to critically examine the idea.

That's why I find myself more and more keeping quiet during the discussion. Or, if I say anything, it is going to be focused on bringing clarity to the objective. There is real value in that. When ideas are flying around the table, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of what we're trying to accomplish.

But perhaps most importantly, keeping silent on "the how" better positions staff to take ownership over that part of the equation. And isn't that what every leader would prefer? Always having to be the one to come up with the right answer is no way to run an organization.

This post written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea

Sometimes I think about the books I’ll read again when I’m retired and have all the free time in the world. The Leatherstocking Tales always come to mind when I do this—not in the order they were written, but in “chronological order” from when Natty is the youthful Deerslayer, on his first warpath, to when we bid farewell to him as an old man on the ever-advancing westward Prairie. Another is Gordon Rhea’s meticulous and superb series on Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign.

The Battle of the Wilderness is actually the first in that series, but it’s the fourth one I’ve read, and I’ve scoured the Internet looking for news of when and if the fifth and further ones are coming out (Gordon, if you’re out there with a Google Alert set on your name, please let me know.) These books and their author seem unique in their ability to simultaneously: (a) convey a great deal of detailed information about troop movements; (b) capture the perspectives of the individual soldiers fighting the battles; and (c) explain the strategy underlying it all and the thoughts going on in the heads of the commanding generals. Most battle narratives I’ve read focus on only one of these areas and give short shrift to the other two. Rhea consistently balances all three in works that are both scholarly and accessible to the average reader.

Now, having said that. Let me take issue with one of the first strategic overviews he gives in this first book of his excellent series.

On the face of it, Lee’s plan had an appealing logic. The possibilities became even more exciting upon a close look at the map. A few miles below the Rapidan fords on Lee’s right sprawled a densely wooded tract known as the Wilderness of Spotsylvania. From the rebel perspective, the Wilderness offered an ideal battlefield. [Major General George G.] Meade’s imposing artillery and cavalry would be hobbled, and the Federals would have difficulty bringing their numbers to bear. Accosting Meade in the Wilderness made eminent sense as a southern objective.

Like all of Rhea’s writing, this appears a lucid and reasoned synopsis of Lee’s battle strategy. Except it strikes me as relying too much on hindsight.

The whole Overland Campaign is a string of battles in which the Federals aggressively attack the Southerners and get slaughtered in great numbers—the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor; they all follow that pattern. Every one a numerical loss for Grant but every one an opportunity to whittle away at the unreplaceable veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia and drive closer to the rebel capital in Richmond. What’s different about the Wilderness is that it was fought in the Wilderness, a place that caused just as many problems with communication and unit cohesion for Lee as it did for Grant.

Rhea continues…

For Lee to snag Meade in the toils of the Wilderness, he would have to take steps to retard the Union advance. Otherwise, the Federals might march through the Wilderness before Lee had sufficient opportunity to maneuver into place. Even [Lieutenant General Richard S.] Ewell’s corps, which held the downriver portion of the Rapidan defensive live, would need nearly a day to swing across the roads radiating from the fords. And if the Confederates failed to win the race against Meade, the consequence would be catastrophic. A massive Union host would stand between the Army of Northern Virginia and the capital it was charged to defend.

I don’t think Lee wanted to trap the Federals in the Wilderness. I think Lee felt like he had to trap the Federals in the Wilderness. To allow the Federals to march past and onto Richmond was unthinkable. But the fact was Grant did not march the Army of the Potomac towards Richmond when he had the chance. After crossing the Rapidan he turned the blue columns west towards Lee, not south towards Richmond, because Lee’s army, not the Southern capital, was Grant’s objective. Lee did not yet know it, but Lincoln and Grant had figured out that as long as Lee led an army in the field, the Confederacy would live on, regardless of how many of its cities the Federals occupied.

Rhea continues…

Lee had earlier described the first precept of his military philosophy: to do “everything in my power to make my plan as perfect as possible, and to bring the troops upon the field of battle.” The Wilderness was clearly the Confederates’ most advantageous field of battle. To better the chances of fighting there, one possibility was to fortify Germanna Ford and Ely’s Ford. A few well-placed brigades at the crossings might buy the Army of Northern Virginia time to move across Meade’s path. A second option involved edging substantial contingents from Ewell, [Lieutenant General Ambrose P.] Hill, and perhaps even [Lieutenant General James] Longstreet toward the Wilderness. With their marching time reduced, these units would be able to ambush the enemy in the woodland and hold them there until the rest of the Confederate army came up. As [Brigadier General E. Porter] Alexander later put it, “In view of the great probabilities that Grant would move upon our right flank very early in May, it does not seem that there would have been any serious difficulty in having both Hill and Ewell out of their winter camps and extended a few miles in that direction and Longstreet’s corps even as far down as Todd’s Tavern [below the Wilderness].

The impossibility of removing Longstreet from the rail line prevented Lee from advancing the entire 1st Corps, but there was no compelling reason against sidling substantial elements from Longstreet, Ewell, and Hill toward the Wilderness. Doing so would sharply increase the odds of pinning Grant in the thickets with little weakening of the Confederate defensive works.

Inexplicably, Lee neglected to take any steps calculated to influence Meade’s advance or to ensure that the Confederates would reach the Wilderness ahead of him. [Major General] Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry patrols were instructed to sound the alarm on Meade’s approach, but they were not expected to offer any serious obstacle to the Union army’s progress. No attempt was made to fortify the Rapidan crossings or to hold rebel infantry in readiness to offer resistance. And not a single Confederate unit was ordered toward the Wilderness to get a jump on the northerners.

Inexplicably? There’s nothing inexplicable about it. Lee did not want to fight Grant in the Wilderness, where his movements and communications would be just as hobbled as Grant’s. He wanted to find out where Grant was going and then attack him in pieces as he had done to so many other Northern generals. The clashes ultimately came in the Wilderness, but it was not ground of Lee’s choosing.

Rhea concludes…

Leaving the pace of the Federal movement to chance, Lee chose to rely solely on his second precept: “The rest must be done by my generals and their troops, trusting to Providence for the victory.”

The gamble exposed the Army of Northern Virginia to fearsome risks. Lee’s troops were dangerously outnumbered, and the capacity of his generals remained a matter of genuine concern. By failing to take steps to ensure that his army would meet the enemy on advantageous ground, Lee was courting disaster.

Having neglected to lay plans with his accustomed degree of care, Lee had nothing to fall back on but Providence, the final ingredient in the gray-haired general’s formula for victory. Fortunately for the rebels, Providence had not abandoned them. At that very moment, its hand could be seen in decisions being made across the Rapidan by the Union top command.

And this is the most perplexing of all. Providence? Does Rhea know what Lee meant when he spoke of Providence? Lee meant the divine hand of Almighty God, whom Lee and Lincoln and hundreds of others had deluded themselves into thinking actually cared one way or the other in this bloody flight in one corner of His creation. Is that what Rhea means, too? I hope not. One of the lessons war is supposed to teach all of us is that God is not on anybody’s side.

It is a device he returns to a few more times, to explain away the quirks of fate that bend Lee’s way but never, it seems, those that bend Grant’s. Here he speaks of Providence playing a role in the Union decision to stop the blue columns in the Wilderness rather than marching through it.

Headquarters, however, decided to stop the troops in the Wilderness during the afternoon of May 4. Providence, it seemed, was restoring to Lee the opportunity that he had neglected to achieve by his own planning.

A shame that Providence couldn’t figure out a way to resolve this conflict without such a horrific loss of life.

But I’m willing to cut Rhea some slack because he’s so good at putting together so many other pieces of the puzzle. He’s especially good at putting in details of the individual soldier’s experience, culled from the many diaries, letters and remembrances that he cites throughout his impressive work. Here’s a moving example from the Union side, a private with some time to kill the night before the Battle of the Wilderness would begin in earnest.

As darkness fell, Private Wilkeson, who had heeded admonitions to collect as much food and water as possible, strolled around Chancellorsville. In some places, polished skulls covered the ground. Leg bones, arm bones, and ribs protruded from shallow graves. Other soldiers joined him. Together they studied remains for bits of clothing to determine whether they belonged to Yankees or Confederates. They built a fire where the graves were thickest. Sitting on the long, low mounds, they talked about the previous spring’s fighting. Smoke drifted through the air. Trees swayed and sighed in the wind. A veteran recounted how the year before, the wounded had helplessly burned to death in thick underbrush. Listeners shuddered and drew closer around the fire. “This region,” whispered the veteran, waving his arm toward the surrounding woods, “is an awful place to fight in. The utmost extent of vision is about one hundred yards. Artillery cannot be used effectively. The wounded are liable to be burned to death. I am willing to take my chances of getting killed, but I dread to have a leg broken and then to be burned slowly; and these woods will surely be burned if we fight here. I hope we will get through this chapparal without fighting.” The speaker took off his cap and quietly smacked it clean of dust from the day’s journey. The men sat silently smoking, staring into the fire. An infantry soldier, who had been stabbing a shallow grave with a bayonet, pried out a skull and rolled it across the ground. He spoke in a deep, quiet voice. “This is what you are all coming to, and some of you will start toward it tomorrow.” The group broke up, most of the men scurrying back to their regimental camps. A few, including Wilkeson, remained by the dying embers and smoked. Lee, they said among themselves, was going to face Grant in the Wilderness. And all of them agreed that Lee held the advantage. After midnight, Wilkeson crept under his caisson, resting his head on a knapsack and dozing to the pops of rifle shots from cavalry pickets patrolling toward Fredericksburg. Dawn was not far off, and with it would come another march and perhaps battle. And somewhere to the west, in blackness beyond the farthest glow of Meade’s dying campfires, Lee’s soldiers were filing by thousands onto Orange Plank Road and the Orange Turnpike.

It sometimes easy to forget how much death the Civil War brought, and how difficult it must have been for the men who lived through it to see so much of it going on around them. A callousness towards it is to be expected, I suppose, as is a kind of resignation and ambivalence should it ever find you.

The other thing Rhea is so good at is not over-dramatizing the mythic events that surround so many Civil War battles. Indeed, in Cold Harbor, he bit by bit dismantles most of that battle’s common folklore through meticulous research and cogent analysis. In The Battle of the Wilderness, his treatment of one of the first “Lee to the rear” stories of the war is refreshing in its simple recitation of the facts and lack of heart-swelling hyperbole.

It is one of the most interesting aspects of the Wilderness—that twice the commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia came within inches of being captured by enemy troops or being wounded in battle. It was partly a result of the tangled mess that was the battlefield. No one, Federal and Confederate commander alike, really knew where they were or where the enemy was at any given time. Chance encounters with potentially disastrous effects happened frequently.

Suddenly a line of Union skirmishers materialized from the shadows and nervously probed into the field, guns ready. Lee self-assuredly walked toward Orange Plank Road calling for his adjutant Taylor. [Major General James E. B.] Stuart stood up and stared straight at the Yankees. Hill remained still, his aide [Colonel William H.] Palmer at his side.

Within pistol shot of the bluecoats, and for a moment breathlessly frozen in time, stood as rich a prize as a Yankee mind could imagine. Robert E. Lee, Jeb Stuart, and Powell Hill were helpless, unprotected, and ripe for plucking.

The three Confederate generals escaped that encounter, the Federal commander not realizing who they were and believing their presence indicated a larger Confederate force he was not ready to meet. But a closer call would come later, when Lee’s own enthusiasm and need to strike a killing blow would compel him to attempt to lead an infantry charge himself.

For me, it is actually a sign of how desperate the Confederate situation was becoming. As in many of his battles, Lee’s army was divided, with Longstreet’s corps not engaged on the first day and marching hard to reach the battle on the second. Lee counted heavily on Longstreet’s early morning arrival, but when the Union general Hancock attacked on May 6, Longstreet was not yet up and the men of A. P. Hill’s corps were not ready for it. Tired and wounded from the battle of May 5, they broke and ran from the advancing Federal troops.

Lee and Hill were furiously attempting to restore order. The commander in chief’s composure was shattered. He was “excited and chagrined,” recalled an onlooker, and he spoke “rather roughly” to unheeding soldiers. Spotting [Brigadier General Samuel] McGowan bobbing along in a sea of gray uniforms, Lee rushed to the brigadier and shouted, “My God! General McGowan, is this splendid brigade of yours running like a flock of geese?” McGowan answered, “General, the men are not whipped. They only want a place to form, and they will fight as well as they ever did.” [Major General Cadmus] Wilcox materialized out of the vortex of troops and reported on his division’s perilous condition. Lee had no time to listen. It was obvious what had happened. Without reinforcements, all was lost. “Longstreet must be here,” Lee exclaimed in exasperation. “Go bring him up.” Relegated to the role of messenger, Wilcox rode off, swept along by soldiers hurrying to escape the Federal onslaught. In anticipation of the worst, Lee directed his aide [Lieutenant Colonel Walter H.] Taylor to ride to Parker’s Store and prepare the army’s supply train for immediate retreat. [Charles] Venable was dispatched to help find Longstreet.

Here’s a glimpse of Lee we’ve seldom seen, but will see more of here in the Wilderness and in the battles yet to come. The master of grand strategy, the general who moves the pieces on the chessboard but lets them do the actual fighting, is forced to take tactical command of the situation and act the part of a combat general. His army is smaller than it used to be, divided, and is losing both good men and good leaders. As he and A. P. Hill work to restore order, the former artilleryman Hill actually dismounts from his horse and helps to fire one of the Confederate cannon. What a scene that must have been!

Longstreet’s men do come up—in the nick of time—as the Union troops are actively advancing through the clearing Lee had been using for his headquarters. A blow must be struck and struck hard if the Confederate Army is to survive and Lee, painfully short of aggressive combat generals, again takes direct command.

Gregg’s troops swept past the batteries where Lee was standing. [Brigadier General John] Gregg was a stranger to Lee, having served in the Confederacy’s western armies before joining the 1st Corps during the Tennessee campaign. Flushed with excitement, Lee eased his horse next to Gregg and shouted above the din, “General, what brigade is this?”

“The Texas brigade,” came the answer.

“I am glad to see it,” cried Lee. “When you go in there, I wish you to give those men the cold steel—they will stand and fight all day, and never move unless you charge them.” Pausing to study the approaching blue line, Lee added by way of encouragement, “The Texas brigade always has driven the enemy, and I want them to do it now. And tell them, General, that they will fight today under my eyes—I will watch their conduct. I want every man of them to know I am here with them.”

“Attention, Texas Brigade,” Gregg boomed for all to hear. “The eyes of General Lee are upon you. Forward. March.”

Lee could not contain his excitement. He raised high in his stirrups. Emotion transformed his face. Tearing off his hat and waving it high, he shouted, “Texans always move them!”

“A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around,” recalled a Texan near Gregg’s front ranks, “and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heartfelt tears.” Leonard Gee, one of Gregg’s couriers, summed up the feeling. “I would charge hell itself for that old man,” he swore in a voice choked with emotion.”

Indeed they would, and Lee knew it. He was counting on their love of him as one of the key weapons they had left to them, to be used in crucial situations where men must be motivated to do what they otherwise wouldn’t. But Lee feels the need to do still more.

The Texans continued on, eight hundred strong, straight at the Federals. Still agitated, Lee spurred his horse through the cannon and advanced with Gregg’s soldiers. At first the Texans did not notice that Lee was with them. Part way across the field, however, it became apparent that he intended to lead the charge himself. That would never do. Ahead was death, especially for a man on horseback.

“Go back, General Lee. Go back!” came the cry, spreading across the entire column. But Lee would not stop. The Texans slowed their pace, looking over at the bareheaded man. Lee’s gray hair splayed in the breeze. His eyes were fixed on the front. “We won’t go on unless you come back,” the troops shouted, but he ignored their pleas. Several soldiers attempted to lead the general’s horse to the rear, and a particularly tall Texan seized his rein. It appeared to one onlooker that “five and six of his staff would gather around him, seize him, his arms, his horse’s reins, but he shook them off and moved forward.”

According to Venable, who was the only aide present, Gregg remonstrated with Lee. “Well then, I will go back,” replied the rebel commander, and began turning his horse around. “Yonder is General Longstreet,” cried Venable, pointing out the commander of the 1st Corps to Lee. Lee and Longstreet conferred briefly on troop dispositions; then Lee moved a little way off. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Venable informed Longstreet of Lee’s attempt to lead the Texas brigade’s charge. Something had to be done to prevent him from risking his life again.

Longstreet handled the assignment with “affectionate bluntness,” the staffer later recounted. Riding over to Lee, Longstreet assured the gray-haired general that he could restore the Confederate line if given a free hand. But if not needed, he would like to leave, “as it was not quite comfortable where we were.” As Longstreet recalled it, Lee was “off his balance.” Reluctantly, the Virginian rode to the rear, leaving the immediate details of the fighting to his trusted subordinate. Taking firm control, Longstreet ordered Hill’s soldiers to re-form while he prepared his 1st Corps to counterattack. Up and down, Longstreet rode, his horse at a walk, addressing each regiment as it slipped into line. “Keep cool, men, we will straighten this out in a short time—keep cool,” Palmer heard him repeating.

Here, and in other places, Rhea portrays Lee as being moved by his own passion, but I think there is more calculation than passion in these actions. Lee knew the effect his presence had on his men, and their willingness to charge even certain death to prove their worthiness to them. But here, unlike the third day at Gettysburg, Lee feels he can no longer hang back while his men take all the risks. His presence among them will inspire them all the more, and the longer odds against him require that additional inspiration. But more importantly, he can never again ask his men to do what he is not willing to do himself.

And despite their refusal of his risking his own safety, they perform as Lee needs them to and as they must if the Confederacy is to survive.

Gregg’s Confederates charged again. This time the Union line bowed back. But the Federals were too numerous for the lone rebel brigade. Face-to-face fighting continued, with neither side willing to retreat. “For 25 minutes we held them steady,” boasted a Confederate who lived through the carnage, “and at the expiration of that time more than half of our brave fellows lay around us dead, dying and wounded, and the few survivors could stand it no longer.” So severe was the combat that many Federals fired without finishing loading. Later, a rebel recalled ramrods driven into trees so deeply that he could not pull them out. Gregg was nearly killed, and blood flowed from several bullet wounds in his horse. His seasoned troops could not withstand such punishment. At his command, they grudgingly gave ground. The brigade had been diminished to a skirmish line. Of 800 men who went into action, fewer than 250 returned unharmed. The 5th Texas lost its commander, its officers, and nearly two-thirds of its troops. The 3rd Arkansas lost its colonel and all but two officers. Some companies were almost obliterated. In one, a single soldier survived to answer the next day’s roll call. The price had been high but Gregg had accomplished his goal. He had rocked the Union assault column back on its heels.

After this retreat a brigade of Georgians go in, and after they are “badly cut up,” a brigade of Alabamians charge forward.

Taking notice of the Alabamians, Lee asked, “What troops are these?” A private in the 15th Alabama called back, “Law’s Alabama brigade.” Lee shouted, “God bless the Alabamans. Alabama soldiers, all I ask of you is to keep up with the Texans.” To William Perry, who was commanding Law’s brigade, the effect was electrifying. “It is impossible not to feel that every man that passed him was, for the time being, a hero,” he later wrote.

Yes, send more of them in, Bobby Lee. Pump them full of passion and fidelity, and then send them in to their deaths. He had to. Even though he was running out of men, many of whom were well nigh impossible to replace, he had to keep pushing them harder and harder. It was the only chance he had to win.

But at what cost? Let’s move forward several hours, after Longstreet has completed a successful flank attack on Hancock’s men, and is out scouting with his staff in an attempt to keep the pressure on.

Shots rang out and deadly minie balls whizzed through the air. Someone cried out, “Show your colors.” The 12th Virginia’s color bearer—the same man who had refused to give the flag to [Lieutenant Colonel Moxley G.] Sorrel a few minutes before—kept his wits. Boldly striding into the roadway, he waved the flag overhead. The headquarters cavalcade was caught in the cross fire. [Brigadier General Micah] Jenkins’ soldiers fell to their knees and aimed blindly into the brush. Realizing that the shooting came from Confederates [Brigadier General Joseph B.] Kershaw dashed into Jenkins’ troops in an attempt to prevent an even greater tragedy. “They are friends,” he screamed. Immediately understanding what had happened, Jenkins’ men held their fire. Bullets ricocheted through the woodland. In these thickets, where figures could be perceived only dimly through smoke and trees, men on horseback ran a special risk. A lead projectile tore through Jenkins’ skull, tumbling the handsome South Carolinian from his horse. “F-r-i-e-n-d-s!” screamed Kershaw. Longstreet rode forward to try to stop the firing. He was a heavy man and maintained a firm seat in his saddle. Looking over, Sorrel saw Longstreet lift straight up, then drop down hard. A confused look clouded Longstreet’s face. Blood spurted from a gaping hole in his neck. More gushed from an exit wound behind his right shoulder. Not yet fully comprehending what had happened, the War Horse tried to turn and ride back. Slowly he slumped in the saddle. His body began to flop from side to side. Seeing that Longstreet was about to fall, his aides jumped to the ground. They quieted his horse, then lifted Longstreet and laid him under a tree.

Longstreet was one of Lee’s original corps commanders. Shortly after the Seven Days in 1862, Lee organized the Army of Northern Virginia into two mighty corps, the first under James Longstreet, the second under Stonewall Jackson. It was in this configuration that the army won all of its glory, at battles like Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Lee’s masterpiece of strategy, Chancellorsville. But it was at Chancellorsville that Jackson was killed, shot accidently by his own troops while scouting for a fresh attack. The army was never the same after that, Lee creating three corps out of what had once been two, and never again regaining the one-two punch of aggressiveness and power that Jackson and Longstreet had brought him. And now, almost a year to the day later, at a spot less than two miles away from where Jackson had been shot, Longstreet was wounded accidently by his own troops while scouting for a fresh attack on the enemy. Longstreet would recover, but psychologically, it was a blow from which the army wouldn’t.

Longstreet was bleeding profusely from where a bullet had entered his neck and passed out his right shoulder. His staff conducted a hurried examination and concluded that the wound was fatal. Francis Dawson, a British volunteer, mounted and darted rearward to find a doctor. “Giving the sad news to the first surgeon I could find,” he later wrote, “I made him jump on my horse, and bade him, for Heaven’s sake, ride as rapidly as he could to the front where Longstreet was.” It just so happened that Dawson had given his mount to Dr. J. S. D. (“Dorsey”) Cullen, the 1st Corps’ medical director. Cullen reached the prostrate Longstreet without delay. The general was choking on his own blood. Laboring feverishly, the doctor tried to stanch the hemorrhage.

Longstreet, despite his condition, remained preoccupied with the battle. Propped against a tree, a bloody froth bubbling at his mouth, he called orders to a passing colonel. “Tell General Field to take command,” he rasped, “and move forward with the whole force and gain the Brock Road.” Field was quickly summoned to Longstreet’s side. Realizing that his injury might be fatal, Longstreet conducted a whispered conversation with his division commander. “Assume command of the corps,” Longstreet told him. “Press the enemy.” Longstreet’s instructions to his aide-de-camp were in the same spirit. “He urged me to hasten to General Lee,” Sorrel later recorded, “report what had been accomplished, and urge him to continue the movement he was engaged on; the troops being all ready, success would surely follow, and Grant, he firmly believed, be driven back across the Rapidan.”

Dr. Cullen meanwhile managed to check the flow of blood. The general was lifted onto a litter and a hat placed over his face to shield him from the sun. Word traveled quickly, and gray-clad soldiers crowded the road to verify reports of Longstreet’s injury for themselves. The inert form, face covered, seemed to confirm their worst fears. “He is dead, and they are telling us he is only wounded,” soldiers murmured. Concerned about the morale of his corps, Longstreet drew on his seemingly inexhaustible reserve of energy and lifted his hat with his left hand. The response was immediate. “The burst of voices and the flying of hats in the air,” Longstreet later reminisced, “eased my pains somewhat.” Longstreet was lifted into an ambulance and a somber procession jostled toward the Confederate hospital tents at Parker’s Store. The general’s staff rode silently with the wagon, one distraught officer standing on the conveyance’s rear step to be nearer the injured Longstreet. “I never on any occasion during the four years of the war saw a group of officers and gentlemen more deeply disturbed,” recorded a passing artillery major. “They were literally bowed down with grief. All of them were in tears. One, by whose side I rode for some distance, was himself severely hurt, but he made no allusion to his wound, and I do not believe he felt it.” The artilleryman looked inside. Longstreet’s hat, coat, and boots had been removed and the blood had drained from his face. “I noticed how white and dome-like his great forehead looked and, with scarcely less reverent admiration, how spotless white his socks and his fine gauze undervest, save where the black red gore from his breast and shoulder had stained it. While I gazed at his massive frame, lying so still, except when it rocked inertly with the lurch of the vehicle, his eyelids frayed apart till I could see a delicate line of blue between them, and then he very quietly moved his unwounded arm and, with thumb and two fingers, carefully lifted the saturated undergarment from his chest, holding it up for a moment, and heaved a deep sigh.” Within the hour, Longstreet’s ambulance had reached the Confederate field hospital. There Dr. Cullen and three other surgeons probed the wound. It was, they concurred, “not necessarily fatal.”

Both armies struggled and lost good men in the Wilderness. I think that’s the point I’m trying to make. This wasn’t a cakewalk for Lee—a happy jaunt to lure Grant into the Wilderness so they could bushwhack him. The Confederates got tangled and turned around just as much as the Federals did, and Lee, with less men and more to lose, had to turn several more somersaults than Grant in order to keep from losing his army. Contrast Rhea’s depiction of Lee’s desperation when Federal troops stumble into the very clearing of his headquarters to that of Grant’s cool-headedness under the same threat.

The general-in-chief was seated on a stump. For a few moments, it appeared that the fighting might reach him. Grant rose and surveyed the scene, cigar smoke mingling with smoke from Union cannon. “General, wouldn’t it be prudent to move headquarters to the other side of the Germanna road till the result of the present attack is known?” suggested an edgy officer. Grant responded quietly, punctuating his remarks with puffs from his cigar. “It strikes me it would be better to order up some artillery and defend the present location.” A Federal battery was obediently rolled forward. The precaution, it developed, was unnecessary. Union artillery fire deterred Confederates from entering the Lacy clearing.

They say Gettysburg was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy, but I think it was actually the Wilderness. Lee still had men to fight with after Gettysburg, and was willing to risk them in aggressive moves against his enemy. After the Wilderness, however, he was finally hamstrung by the lack of replacements and Grant’s constant pressure into a perpetually defensive posture. Rhea echoes this reality in the typically sound analysis he provides at the end of the book.

But in a broader perspective, the battle manifested a Confederate failure. The southerners had been unable to maintain the initiative. Now the Army of Northern Virginia’s offensive capacity was spent. The armies faced each other across a few hundred yards of shattered brush. The grand maneuvers that had served Lee so well in the past were no longer possible. The only reasonable course of action remaining to the Confederates was to stay in their strong defensive line and wait for Grant to make a mistake.

This is what makes the Wilderness different from the other battles of the Overland Campaign. It confirmed once and for all that the ghastly mathematics of the North’s superior numbers would finally bring the war to an end. One has to wonder how many lives could have been saved if Lee had allowed himself to recognize this fact prior to Appomattox.

This post written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Actors in the Play

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I keep finding myself in discussions about the role of committees in association governance and management. Some folks think all committees must report to the Board. That is their natural home, they say. They're made up of volunteer members, after all. Who better to supervise them but the volunteers they and their peers have elected to leadership?

I've seen this perspective taken to dysfunctional extremes. Just the other day, a colleague shared with me the organizational chart of her association, and it, like many others I've seen, clearly showed all the association committees reporting directly to the board. They were on one side of the chart. On the other, coded in a different color, was all the staff reporting up through the executive director, who then reported to the board. There was absolutely no connection between the staff and the committees.

Although I doubt her organization actually functions this way, what the chart said to me was that each and every committee was on an equal management footing with the executive director. On paper, she had no authority over them, and the board clearly had the option to delegate management functions to any combination of committees instead of its hired executive.

This, to me, is madness. I've written before that the only committees that should report to the board are those it appoints to help it fulfill its governance function--such as a nominating committee or an audit committee. Any committee that helps the association execute its programs--which is the job of the vast majority of association committees I'm familiar with--should report to the executive director. This is the person responsible for program execution. In many associations this person needs the time, talents and expertise of volunteer members to successfully complete that task, but all of those efforts should be under his or her direction. How can this person be expected to marshal and align the appropriate resources if they are unable to exercise leadership authority over that process?

One of my past board chairs had a metaphor he liked to use with our board to help communicate the right idea about our committees and their role in our organization. Let me paraphrase.

"We're putting on a play. It's a big Broadway production with a lot of moving parts, and it will need a firm hand if it's going to come off the way we all hope it will.

"The board is the producer. It has the vision and works to raise the necessary money and resources.

"Our CEO is the director. He's the one we've hired to bring our production to life and to make the tough calls about how the resources are to be used.

"And we, the individual board members, when we serve on committees, we're the actors in the play. Some of us will have starring roles and some of us will have bit parts, but when we're on stage, every one of us will have to take direction from our director. Collectively, we have set the vision, but only the director can take us where we need to go."

You'll forgive me for thinking that this is just about right.

This post written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Messy Unknown

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This post got me thinking about the messy unknown, a term coined by Tom and David Kelley to describe the place outside your comfort zone. In the messy unknown, they say elsewhere, you have to deal with unexpected findings, with uncertainty, and with irrational people who say things you don't want to hear. But you must venture into this place, because in the messy unknown you also find insights and creative breakthroughs.

One of the things I've come to understand is the messy unknown doesn't just exist outside your organization. A lot of the writing the Kelleys do on the messy unknown focuses on the external world of your customer, and about how you need to venture forth into it, opening yourself up to new information and discovery. They're right, of course, but the messy unknown exists inside your organization as well.

A colleague of mine is restructuring her organization. Over coffee the other day, she told me about how the current structure was no longer contributing to their growth, and about how the new structure--which was being unveiled later that day--would in many ways be a grand experiment. Lines of reporting and areas of responsibility would change, but how the people in the organization would adapt, and what new communication systems they would need to build to make the new structure work, would have to be invented after the reshuffling was done. There was no way to set those up in advance, to anticipate with precision what those needs would be.

That's the messy unknown, too. She would need to venture forth into the world of her staff members, and keep herself open to new information and discovery about their needs. Indeed, she needed to do some of that before even suggesting the changes she was making if she hoped her reorganization would have any chance of success.

And there is at least one other place that the messy unknown exists--inside your own head. Whether it's the external focus of the Kelleys or the internal focus on my colleague, any journey into the messy unknown must begin with taming the fears that we conjure up in our own minds. There, the uncertainty can sometimes overwhelm you, especially when you realize that it is you and only you that can venture into this unknown, and that there is never any guarantee that you will find anything worthwhile.

Fashioning success out of the chaos that seemingly surrounds us is one of the most challenging tasks any leader will ever face. It's daunting, and it's not surprising that many are too intimidated by their fear to even attempt it. But turning fear into curiosity--for you and for the people who follow you--is one of the most important things any leader can do.

This post written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

I was assigned to read this book in middle or high school. Assigned to, but never actually read it as far as I can remember. I’ve seen the movie about nine times, though. So when I saw the novel in a used bookstore in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, I decided to pick it up and give it another try. It’s very similar to the movie, with long stretches of dialogue lifted verbatim from the text. So much so that it was impossible for me to read the book without hearing Henry Fonda read Gil Carter’s lines, Harry Morgan speak for Art Croft, and see Dana Andrews’ trembling lips in the words of Donald Martin.

There are some interesting differences between the book and the movie, though. First of all, Art Croft is the first-person narrator of the novel, but clearly not the leading role in the movie. It’s true that as the narrator Art is the observer and not prime actor in the drama that is The Ox-Bow Incident, but, neither, I think is Gil Carter. They’re both relatively bit players in the drama that consumes them. If I was going to make a movie of The Ox-Bow Incident and put someone other than Art Croft in the central role, I think I would’ve chosen Major Tetley. But talk about breaking the Hollywood taboos of the day. Can you imagine a leading actor like Henry Fonda playing a character like Major Tetley in 1943?

Which is an interesting prism through which to examine the rest of the differences between the film and the book. Having not read the book before seeing the movie, I thought 1940s Hollywood must have edited it heavily for both style and decorum. Now having read the book, I see that they did, but not necessarily in the ways I would have predicted.

Rose Mapin, for example. I was sure she was a Hollywood invention; put there to provide a vehicle for some up-and-coming actress and to put some sense of the femme fatale in the story. But nope, Rose Mapin is part of the novel. She’s the same goldbricking vamp in both places, run out of town by the respectable (but never seen) women for having too many boyfriends (Gil Carter among them), and marrying some aspiring tycoon with business interests in San Francisco. The novel even includes the asynchronous stagecoach scene, the husband’s simpering dialogue there in black and white.

The only other principal woman in the novel, Jenny “Ma” Grier, played in the movie by Jane Darwell (the same actress who played Ma Joad to Henry Fonda’s Tom in film version of The Grapes of Wrath), is a different story. Hollywood changed her quite a bit. Here’s how Clark has Art Croft describe her:

Jenny Grier was the name of the woman we called Ma. She was middle-aged and massive, with huge, cushiony breasts and rump, great thighs and shoulders, and long, always unkempt, gray hair. Her wide face had fine big gray eyes in it, but was fat and folded, and she always appeared soiled and greasy. She was strong as a wrestler, probably stronger than any man in the valley except Gabe, and with that and her appearance, if it hadn’t been for the loud good nature she showed most of the time, people would have been afraid of her. All the women were, anyway, and hated her too, which was all right with her. There were lively, and some pretty terrible, stories about her past, but now she kept a kind of boarding house on the cross street, and it was always in surprisingly good order, considering how dirty she was about herself. She was a peculiar mixture of hard-set ideas too. Though mostly by jokes, she’s been dead set against Osgood from the first day he came. She had no use for churches and preaching, and she’d made it hard for him by starting all kinds of little tales, like her favorite one about being surprised at how hungry she was when she woke up after the only sermon of his she ever heard, only to find that was because he’d gone right on through and it was the second Sunday, and he hadn’t wound up his argument then, but his voice gave out. And she could imitate too, his way of talking, his nervous habits with his hands, his Gladstone pose. She always pretended to be friendly, in a hearty way, when she saw him, and the man was afraid of her. But on the other hand she was a lot more than ordinarily set against what she thought of wrong-doing. I missed my guess if she hadn’t had a part in driving Gil’s Rose out of town. She didn’t like women, wouldn’t have one in her house, not even for one night’s sleep. In ways, I think she was crazy, and that all her hates and loves came out of thinking too much about her own past. Sometimes I even wondered if that way she mistreated her own body, with dirt and more work than she needed to do and long hunts and rides she didn’t want to make and not much rest or sleep, when about everything else she was a great joker and clean and orderly, wasn’t all part of getting even with herself, a self-imposed penance.

This sounds a lot more like Deadwood’s Calamity Jane to me than Ma Joad, but an independent woman that looked and acted like Ma Joad was less threatening to 1940s Hollywood, I guess.

I’m probably overreacting, but there’s another scene later on that makes me think this emasculation of Ma Grier was intentional. In the movie the character named Smith (a kind of mouthy know-it-all, who’s all for the hanging as long as someone else is going to actually string the rustlers up) gets really cozy with Ma. There’s a scene where the two of them are whispering jokes to one another and laughing uproariously while Donald Martin and the others wait for sunrise and their executions. Well, in the book, Smith is obviously trying to do more than just tell a few jokes:

“You didn’t miss anything,” Gil said, “except Smith working on Ma.”

That was still going on. They were sitting in front of us, and Smith had one arm around her thick middle and was holding a bottle up to her. He wasn’t making any headway, though. She was solid as a stump.

And a few pages later, when Martin gets indignant about Davies showing the letter he had written for his wife around to the other men:

“I made no promise,” Davies told Martin.

“All right, you made no promise. I should have known I’d need a promise. Or would that have done any good? I thought there was one white man among you. Well, I was wrong.”

Then he became general in his reference. He waved an arm around to take us all in. “But what good would an oath do, in a pack like this, an oath to do what any decent man would do by instinct? You eat our food in front of us and joke about it. You make love publicly in front of men about to die, and are able to sleep while they wait. What good would an oath do where there’s not so much conscience in the lot as a good dog has?”

“Make love” here more than likely means the attempt to make love rather than the act itself, but it’s interesting that the phrase was missing from the movie. As I said, so much of the movie dialog is lifted straight from the text of the novel, that I think the elimination of this phrase has to be intentional. For whatever reason, the producers must have been uncomfortable with the portrayal of Ma as an object of sexual desire. All the better then, that they cast Jane Darwell in the role.

And speaking of Martin’s letter—in the movie it features prominently in the denouement of the morality play; Gil reading it aloud to the illiterate Art Croft, while all the other men involved in the lynching listen on. But in the book, the transcendent words are not Martin’s. They are Davies’, and they come not at the end but near the beginning, while he is still trying to talk the men out of going after the supposed rustlers.

“Yes,” he repeated, “a sin against society. Law is more than the words that put it on the books; law is more than any decisions that may be made from it; law is more than the particular code of it stated at any one time or in any one place or nation; more than any man, lawyer or judge, sheriff or jailer, who may represent it. True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has evolved with mankind. None of man’s temples, none of his religions, none of his weapons, his tools, his arts, his sciences, nothing else he has grown to, is so great a thing as his justice, his sense of justice. The true law is something in itself; it is the spirit of the moral nature of man; it is an existence apart, like God, and as worthy of worship as God. If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?”

Indeed, the ending of the movie is quite a bit different than the ending of the book. In the movie, after the hanging is done, the posse of men meet up with Sheriff Risley on their way back to town, crowing triumphantly about what they have done without his knowledge and authority. Risley has unfortunate news for them—Kinkaid, the man whose death they thought they were avenging, was not dead, and the Sheriff has already caught the men who shot him and stole his cattle. Realizing that the townfolk have hung three innocent men, the Sheriff shakes his head grimly, and hopes aloud that God will have mercy on their souls, because he won’t. It’s a much different scene in the book.

We were all tired, even Gil half asleep in his saddle, and we nearly rode into the horses standing in the clearing before we saw them. They were quietly bunched under the falling snow.

“It’s the sheriff,” Gil said. “It’s Risley.”

Then he said, “Jesus, it’s Kinkaid.”

It was too, with a bandage on his head, and a bit peaked, but otherwise as usual, quiet, friendly and ashamed to be there. The other three men, besides the sheriff, were [Judge] Tyler, Drew and Davies’ pimply clerk Joyce. The Judge was red in the face and talking violently, but through the snow his voice came short and flat.

“It’s murder, murder and nothing less. I warned you, Tetley, I warned you repeatedly, and Davies warned you, and Osgood. You all heard us; you were all warned. You wanted justice, did you? Well, by God, you shall have it now, real justice. Every man of you is under arrest for murder. We’ll give you a chance to see how slow regular justice is when you’re in the other chair.”

Nobody replied to him, that I could hear.

“My God,” Gil said, “I knew it didn’t feel right. I knew we should wait. That bastard Tetley,” he finished.

Everybody would hang it on Tetley now. I didn’t say anything.

The sheriff was stern, but he wasn’t the kind to gabble easily, like Tyler. He was a small, stocky man with a gray, walrus mustache and black bushy eyebrows. He had a heavy sheepskin on, with the collar turned up around his ears. His deep-set, hard, blue eyes looked at each of us in turn. Nobody but Tetley tried to hold up against his look, and even Tetley failed.

When he’d made us all look down, he said something we couldn’t hear to the Judge. The Judge began to sputter, but when Risley looked level at him too the sputter died, and the Judge just stared around at us belligerently again, thrusting his lower lip out and sucking it in and making a hoarse, blowing noise.

Risley sat silent for a moment, as if considering carefully, looking us over all the time. Finally he stared into the snow over us and the milky blue shadows of the trees through it and said, “I haven’t recognized anybody here. We passed in a snowstorm, and I was in a hurry.”

“That’s collusion, Risley,” the Judge began loudly, getting redder than ever. “I’ll have you understand I won’t…”

“What do you want to do?” Risley cut in, looking at him.

The Judge tried to say something impressive about the good name of the valley and of the state, and the black mark against his jurisdiction and Risley’s, but it was no use. Everybody just waited for him to stop; he couldn’t hold out against all of us without Risley.

And so the men who did the hanging go free. It’s actually consistent with the theme Clark had been developing throughout the novel. Shortly after Davies gives his impassioned speech about the transcendence of law, Art observes:

It just seemed funny now to think I’d been listening to an argument about what the soul of the law was. Right here and now was all that was going to count.

And later, when an old codger tries to stoke everybody up into getting a move on:

But one thing I did see. If that old cackler who didn’t even have the facts straight could heat me up when I knew he was wrong, then a lot of these men must be fixed so that nothing could turn them off unless it could save their faces.

In other words, there is no supreme justice—only what happens in the heat of the moment by the people standing around who allow it to happen. It may be reading too much into the text, but Risley’s actions seem to me to underscore this very point. Justice is a man-made construction, not something meted out infallibly from on high. Whether it’s executed out by the Ox-Bow or in Tyler’s courtroom, the difference is one of degree and not of kind.

But evidently that’s not a moral 1940s Hollywood was comfortable with. By repositioning Davies’ words as Martin’s at the very end of the movie, by leaving the men who voted for the lynching under the pending punishment of the courts, and, most blatantly, by changing the number of people who voted against the lynching from Clark’s ambiguous five to Hollywood’s holy seven, shooting them in the angelic glow of the early morning sunrise, the movie wants you to come away with a clear sense of right and wrong. This is what happens when the hubris of man runs amok, when he takes justice into his own hands rather than entrusting it to the Almighty and the institutions that He has made among us to help us make sense out of madness. That’s certainly the movie Hollywood made. Too bad it’s not the book Clark wrote.

But even in the novel not everyone gets off scot free. Tetley kills himself, falling on his cavalry sword rather than shooting himself as is heavily implied at the end of the movie. But he only does this after his son Gerald kills himself, hanging himself from a rafter in their barn. Tetley’s relationship with Gerald is one of the great subtexts of the novel—his need for Gerald to act a certain a way, to prove Tetley’s own manliness by projecting a certain force into the world, something Gerald is incapable or unwilling to do.

In the movie, it feels a lot more like incapable—Gerald portrayed as a pathetic coward of a man-boy, unable to grow beyond the domineering shadow of his father. But the Gerald of the novel is a little more complex. In a scene wholly eliminated from the movie, Gerald reveals a great deal of mature thinking in an extended dialog with Art.

“Cold wind,” I began.

He looked at me as if I’d said something important.

Then he said, “It’s more than wind,” and stared ahead of him again.

“Maybe,” I said. I didn’t get his drift, but if he wanted to talk, “maybe” shouldn’t stop him.

“It’s a lot more,” he said, as if I’d contradicted him. “You can’t go hunting men like coyotes after rabbits and not feel anything about it. Not without being like any other animal. The worst animal.”

“There’s a difference; we have reasons.”

“Names for the same thing,” he said sharply. “Does that make us any better? Worse, I’d say. At least coyotes don’t make excuses. We think we can see something better, but we go on doing the same things, hunt in packs like wolves; hole up in warrens like rabbits. All the dirtiest traits.”

“There’s still a difference,” I said. “We’ve got it over wolves and rabbits.”

“Power, you mean,” he said bitterly.

“Over your wolves, and bears too.”

“Oh, we’re smart,” he said, the same way. “It’s the same thing,” he cried; “all we use it for is power. Yes, we’ve got them scared all right, all of them, except the tame things we’ve taken the souls out of. We’re the cocks of the dungheap, all right; the bullies of the globe.”

“We’re not hunting rabbits tonight,” I reminded him.

“No; our own kind. A wolf wouldn’t do that; not a mangy coyote. That’s the hunting we like now, our own kind. The rest can’t excite us any more.”

“We don’t have to hunt men often,” I told him. “Most people never have. They get along pretty well together.”

“Oh, we love each other,” he said. “We labor for each other, suffer for each other, admire each other. We have all the pack instincts, all right, and nice names for them.”

“All right,” I said, “what’s the harm in there being pack instincts, if you want to put it that way? They’re real.”

“They’re not. They’re just to keep the pack with us. We don’t dare hunt each other alone, that’s all. There’s more ways of hunting than with a gun,” he added.

He’d jumped too far for me on that one. I didn’t say anything.

“Think I’m stretching it, do you?” he asked furiously. “Well, I’m not. It’s too nice a way of putting it, if anything. All any of us really want any more is power. We’d buck the pack if we dared. We don’t, so we use it; we trick it to help us in our own little killings. We’ve mastered the horses and cattle. Now we want to master each other, make cattle of men. Kill them to feed ourselves. The smaller the pack the more we get.”

“Most of life’s pretty simple and quiet,” I said. “You talk like we all had knives out.”

“Your simple life,” he said. “Your quiet life. All right,” he said, “take the simplest, quietest life you know. Take the things that are going on around us all the time, so we don’t notice them any more than old furniture. Take women visiting together, next-door neighbors, old friends. What do they talk about? Each other, all the time, don’t they? And what are the parts they like, the ones they remember and bring home to tell to the men?”

“I don’t know anything about women,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” he said. “You know anyway. Gossip, scandalous gossip, that’s what wakes them up, makes them talk faster and all together, or secretively, as if they were stalking enemies in their minds; something about a woman they know, something that can spoil her reputation: the way she was seen to look at a certain man, or that she can’t cook, or doesn’t keep her parlor clean, or can’t have children, or, worse, could but won’t. That’s what wakes them up. And do you know why?” He turned the white shape of his face toward me sharply.

I didn’t like the way the talk was getting to sound like a quarrel. I tried to ease it off.

“No,” I said. “Why?” as if I was really curious.

“Because it makes them feel superior; makes them feel they’re the wolves, not the rabbits. If each of them had it the way she wants it,” he said after a moment, “she’d be the only woman left in the world. They can’t manage that, so they do the best they can toward it.”

“People can be pretty mean sometimes,” I admitted, “picking on the weak ones.” It was no good.

“It’s not always the weak ones,” he said angrily. “They’re worse than wolves, I tell you. They don’t weed out the unfit, they weed out the best. They band together to keep the best down, the ones who won’t share their dirty gossip, the ones who have more beauty or charm or independence, more anything, than they have. They did it right there in Bridger’s Wells this springs,” he blazed.

He’s talking about Rose Mapin here, about how the other women in town drove her out because she wasn’t like them and wouldn’t play by their rules. He then talks about another woman in town who was fired up about Kinkaid’s murder, demanding that the group of them ride out and catch his killers, even though she never cared two beans about Kinkaid before his death. Gerald believes her motivation is jealousy, that she secretly wants to see all men killed because she can’t catch and control one of her own. Art continues as a reluctant participant throughout this conversation, eventually commenting that Gerald must not think much of women.

“Men are no better,” he said. “Men are worse. They’re not so sly about their murder, but they don’t have to be; they’re stronger; they already have the upper hand on half the race, or they think so. They’re bullies instead of sneaks, and that’s worse. And they’re just as careful to keep up their cheap male virtues, their strength, their courage, their good fellowship, to keep the pack from jumping them, as the women are to keep up their modesty and their hominess. They all lie about what they think, hide what they feel, to keep from looking queer to the pack.”

“Is there anything so fine about being different?” I asked him.

“Did you ever hear a man tell another man about the dreams he’s had that have made him sweat and run his legs in the bed and wake up moaning with fear? Did you?”

“What do you want? Everybody running around telling his dreams, like a little kid?”

“Or any woman tell about the times she’s sighed and panted in her sleep for a lover she wasn’t married to?”

“For Lord’s sake.” I said.

“No,” he babbled on, “you never did and you never will.”

“It’s all right with me if I don’t.”

The white of his face was to me again. “You’re like all the rest,” he raged. “You’ve had dreams like that; you know you have. We’ve all had those dreams. In our hearts we know they’re true, truer than anything we ever tell; truer than anything we ever do, even. But nothing could make us tell them, show our weakness, have the pack at our throats.

“Even in dreams,” he said, after a bit, as if he was talking to himself, but so I could hear, “even in dreams it’s the pack that’s worst; it’s the pack that we can never quite see but always feel coming, like a cloud, like a shadow, like a fog with our death in it. It’s the spies of the pack who are always hidden behind the next pillars of the temples and palaces we dream we’re in, watching us go between them. They’re behind the trees in the black woods we dream about; they’re behind the boulders on the mountains we dream we’re climbing, behind the windows on the square of every empty dream city we wander in. We’ve all heard them breathing; we’ve all run screaming with fear from the pack that’s coming somewhere. We’ve all waked up in the night and lain there trembling and sweating and staring at the dark for fear they’ll come again.

“But we don’t tell about it, do we?” he dared me. And said quickly, “No, no, we don’t even want to hear anybody else tell. Not because we’re afraid for him. No, we’re afraid our own eyes will give us away. We’re afraid that sitting there hearing him and looking at him we’ll let the pack know that our souls have done that too, gone barefoot and gaping with horror, scrambling in the snow of the clearing in the black woods, with the pack in the shadows behind them. That’s what makes us sick to hear fear admitted, or lust, or even anger, any of the things that would make the pack believe that we were either weak or dangerous.”

He turned his face fully toward me, furious and challenging. “That is what makes you sick now, to hear me,” he told me. “That’s what makes you so damned superior and cold and quiet.” His voice choked him so I thought he was going to cry. “You’re just hiding the truth, even from yourself,” he babbled.

My hands were twitching, but I didn’t say anything.

Then he said more quietly, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you? It always seems crazy to tell the truth. We don’t like it; we won’t admit what we are. So I’m crazy.”

I was thinking that. I don’t like to hear a man pouring out his insides without shame. And taking it for granted everyone else must be like him. You’d have thought he was God, making everyone in his own pattern. Still, he was a kid and weak and unhappy, and his own father, they said, was his enemy.

“Every man’s got a right to his own opinion,” I told him.

After a moment he said, “Yes,” low and to his saddlehorn.

Having heard myself speak I realized that queerly, weak and bad-tempered as it was, there had been something in the kid’s raving which had made the canyon seem to swell out and become immaterial until you could think the whole world, the universe, into the half-darkness around you: millions of souls swarming like fierce, tiny, pale stars, shining hard, winking about cores of minute, mean feelings, thoughts and deeds. To me his idea appeared just the opposite of Davies’. To the kid, what everybody thought was low and wicked, and their hanging together was a mere disguise of their evil. To Davies, what everybody thought became, just because everybody thought it, just and fine, and to act up to what they thought was to elevate oneself. And yet both of them gave you that feeling of thinking outside yourself, in a big place; the kid gave me that feeling even more, if anything, though he was disgusting. You could feel what he meant; you could only think what Davies meant.

I’ve quoted this at length because I think Clark is making one of his most essential points here and in the character of Gerald Tetley—a point that is almost entirely lost in the movie because of the way Hollywood restricted the role that Gerald would play. Look at how dismissive Art is of Gerald—Art, our everyman observer of the life and death drama about to play out on the Ox-Bow stage. He treats Gerald like a lunatic. Art, like us, is so much a part of the culture that shaped him that he can only hear what Gerald is saying as some kind of crazy talk. But Clark gives us not-so-subtle clues that what Gerald is describing is really the way things are. It is, in fact, Clark’s central message about people and justice. Like Art, we all like to hear men like Davies talk, and be inspired by their high-minded rhetoric, but it is words like Gerald’s that ring more true in our gut.

And then there’s this dialog with Sparks—again with Art, not Gil.

“Ah wish we was well out of this business,” he said.

“It’s a way of spendin’ time,” I told him.

“It’s man takin’ upon himself the Lohd’s vengeance,” he said. “Man, Mistah Croft, is full or error.” He said it jokingly, but he wasn’t joking.

I suppose I think as much about God as the next man who isn’t in the business. I spend a lot of time alone. But I’d seen, yes and done, some things that made me feel that if God was worried about man it was only in large numbers and in the course of time.

“Do you think the Lord cares much about what’s happening up here tonight?” I asked him, too sharply.

Sparks took it gently though. “He mahks the sparrow’s fall,” he said.

“Then He won’t miss this, I guess.”

“God is in us, Mistah Croft,” he pleaded. “He wuhks th’ough us.”

“Maybe, then, we’re the instruments of the divine vengeance,” I suggested.

“Ah can’t fahnd that in mah conscience, Mistah Croft,” he said after a moment. “Can you?” he asked me.

“I’m not sure I’ve got a conscience any more.”

It’s a tidbit that the movie tries to position as part of its own interpretation of the book—that men only act in concert with the divine will of God when they follow their consciences individually, and the rule of law collectively. But as I’ve been discussing, that’s not my interpretation of the book nor, I think, the one Clark intended. Equating the human conscience with God comes easily if you focus on just one line of Davies’ speech, repositioned in the movie as Martin’s climatic and ill-fated letter to his wife:

If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience?

But a fuller reading of that speech, as well as the many other elements I’ve highlighted that were featured in the book and missing from the movie, appropriately places the emphasis on a different section of that speech, the part that comes just before the more celebrated line.

True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has evolved with mankind. None of man’s temples, none of his religions, none of his weapons, his tools, his arts, his sciences, nothing else he has grown to, is so great a thing as his justice, his sense of justice. The true law is something in itself; it is the spirit of the moral nature of man; it is an existence apart, like God, and as worthy of worship as God.

The law is like God, in the sense that it exists apart from individual man. But it is not God. It is, in fact, the spirit of man’s moral nature—what we would today call a humanist concept. If it exists at all, it is more separate from God than it is from man, since man is its progenitor.

Looking at this last bit of dialogue between Sparks and Art in that context, I don’t think Clark is trying to tell us not to take on the vengeance of the Lord, even though that is clearly the way Sparks thinks. Rather, I see this as emphasizing my earlier point, that there are two kinds of justice, and man has a choice in which one he will exercise.

Act in accordance with Gerald’s rule of the pack, as the men at the Ox-Bow do, and you may satisfy your individual sense of justice. But act in accordance with Davies’ rule of law, which is grounded on the collective conscience of man, and you allow a similar, but broader, more wholly humanist justice to be served. Either way, justice remains a human concept. It’s not given to us by God, even though some of us, like Sparks and the movie producers, seem content to abdicate it to His domain. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with just two kinds of justice, which they ultimately see both as flawed, and with no higher meaning that what man can give them.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Finding Success All At Once

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One of my rituals at the end of each year is to go through all the bloggers and tweeters I'm following and to drop some that haven't given me enough value in the past year. Nothing personal, but there are only so many hours in the day, and this gives me the freedom to add a few new people throughout the year to help keep my horizons expanding.

One of the new people I'm trying out in 2013 is Dorie Clark on the HBR Blog Network. She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. It's still early in our relationship, but so far, I'm liking much of what I'm reading.

I recently tweeted one of her posts: Build Your Reputation the Rachael Ray Way. I'm not a Rachel Ray fan, but in the post Clark effectively uses Ray's rise to fame to make some important points about the discipline and dedication that is almost always correlated with success. There are, Clark says, three key steps, greatly implying that they must be done in sequential order.

1. Skills development comes first. Become at least adept and at best an expert in what you choose to do.

2. Build your platform next. Once your skills have been honed, you must put yourself out in the public eye and begin making a name for yourself.

3. Embrace luck — and make your own. Finally, you must seize opportunities as they present themselves to exponentially grow your reach and impact. Small bits of luck fall into everyone's lap. The most successful people work harder than anyone else to leverage those small bits of luck into big wins.

It's a good post, but I'll be honest. The thing that struck me as I read it was that, in the world of associations, success frequently comes not when these steps are done in order, but when they are done all at once.

Think about it. When was the last time you were able to build a competency within your organization to a high level of adroitness before you were forced to put that competency into action in service of some pressing priority? And when was the last time you were able to strategically capitalize on an golden opportunity because you already had the skills and platform you needed to leverage it?

In fact, if your experiences are anything like mine, than these steps come most frequently in reverse order if they come in any order at all. First, opportunity presents itself. Then you extend yourself publicly to put yourself into a position where your organization can respond to it. Then you pull an all-nighter trying to figure out how you can rise to the challenge without looking like a fool.

The funny thing is that we've all done that. In many respects it's what separates successful people and organizations from the run-of-the-mill. Very few of us have the luxury Clark seems to ascribe to Ray--the luxury of development followed by exposure followed by opportunity. If we're going to succeed in today's association environment, we have to be able to mix these things up and put them into whichever order the situation demands.

By the way, if anyone has suggestions for some high value bloggers and tweeters I should give be trying out in 2013, I'm all ears.

This post written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author that explores a new generation of leadership issues. For more information, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at