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Courageous Leadership

Being a Visionary: A Key to Leadership Victory

A few months ago I had the opportunity to travel to Gettysburg to study the leadership styles of the battle's victors and the defeated. One case stood out to me because of this officer's ability to use his strength in visioning that led to the ultimate Union triumph.

Colonel John Buford's First Cavalry brigade of 2500 Union men arrived in Gettysburg on June 30, 1863 just a day before the entire Confederate army planned to march East to confront the Army of the Potomac. Upon his arrival, Buford surveyed the area and determined that the high grounds to the east of town, provided the strategic perspective that would determine who would win that contest and probably the Civil War.

Buford wrote that he could see the entire outcome of the fight before him and that unless the Union secured those key locations, the Confederate Army would march into town the next day, take the high ground and leave the Union soldiers to fight a futile uphill battle that would lead to defeat.

The next morning, Buford's regiment established a line of defense to the west of Gettysburg and created an impression of strength and power that confounded and confused his counterpart. Buford's strategy was to delay the Army of Northern Virginia long enough to allow the federal troops to arrive in town and occupy the high ground, a task that only took 2-3 hours but one that led to the eventual success of the battle.

While Buford showed great courage on the battlefield, his victory was due in large part to his ability to see the key factors responsible for success. While visioning may not be your greatest strength personally, we all can learn from Colonel Buford and practice the four key elements of visioning that will allow us to bring this skill to our lives. They include:

a. Study: Buford was a student of military history and understood tactics in warfare. There was no question that possessing the high ground was a key to victory. What are the keys for success in your work and life? Know these and the field begins to become clearer.

b. Observe: Buford kept his eyes on the landscape around him. He was not distracted by the minutia of politics or personnel but used his observational abilities to assess the situation. What part of your work landscape is important for you to pay attention to?

c. Trust your instincts: John Buford used a combination of facts and imagination that created his plan for battle. Too often in today's business environment, we rely only on the spreadsheets and financial reports to make our decisions. Use your intuition and imagination to create scenarios for success.

d. Don't over think the action: "The best laid plans...." Buford did not have a commanding general nearby who he could consult, but instead had to decide on the fly what actions he would take that day. Once he knew what he had to do, figuring out the logistics was easy. Success in more important than getting everything right.

For the most part, none of us will be making the kinds of decisions that John Buford had to make on the evening of the first day of the greatest battle in American history. We can however, use the leadership skills of visioning to create a winning plan for each day.


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TED Talks

While Buford's leadership was decisive for winning the day, he could not have done it without his 2500 Cavalry troops. Having an army of followers in the military is a lot easier than obtaining genuine followers at work. But having followers is pretty darn important to leadership. In fact, it's essential!

So how does one obtain followers or for those of you with higher aspirations, how do you start a movement?

This intriguing video by Derek Sivers shows how a movement happens in less than 3 minutes. In the video, Derek points out that while it takes courage to start a movement, the key role is the first follower who transforms the solo leader's actions into a duet, and encourages others to join in. As the crowd grows, the action changes from following just a single leader to following one another. As the group grows, people now want to join in because they want to be a part of the in-crowd. Watch this video so you'll know how to be part of the hip and cool group.


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The Health Care Corner

With the mid-term elections over, the serious work of governing will begin in earnest next month. The key issue that will be in discussion next year will be ways to bring down the federal deficit. Among a recently identified potential approach to increase federal revenues is to remove the special tax exemption status for so called "employer paid health insurance."

Currently the costs of employer paid health insurance is free of any taxes to the employer or employee but that can change if the new Congress and President see the "sacred cow" as a fair source of revenue.

I have said for years now that the idea of "employer paid" health insurance is a myth and undermines the role of the individual as a consumer of health care. The truth is that employers don't "provide" health insurance. Employees earn and pay for health insurance as part of their total compensation. As an employee, I consider my income anything and everything paid to me by my employer.

So what happens if health insurance premiums become taxable income? Probably three things:

  1. Employers' may increase total compensation to employees to cover some or the entire additional tax burden. The employer may say "we're going to help cover the additional cost of health care but are going to split the costs 50/50."
  2. Employees may become more aware that health insurance benefits are not something that is given to them as a "benefit" but instead represents a part of what they earn for their work, and may take a greater interest in spending it wisely.
  3. Employers and employees may begin to see health insurance a bit more like they see their 401 K retirement contribution. While employers fund a portion of employee's retirement and provide investment options (like mutual funds), employees are ultimately responsible for investing and overseeing their retirement plans. We will probably see a similar shift in health insurance that will lead employees to become more engaged in the management of health insurance options.

While I can't speak to the implications of taxing healthcare benefits as a strategy to reduce the national deficit, I am pretty confident that if health insurance premiums were taxed, we would find employees becoming more involved in the financial management of their health insurance. That increased role would ultimately lead to more participation and engagement in helping everyone become a better consumer of healthcare, and maybe in taking actions to stay healthy. That would be a good thing.


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