Two days from now marks the 150th anniversary of the end of North America’s bloodiest war that pitted countryman against countryman and, occasionally, brother against brother.
On April 9, 1865, Union General Ulysses S. Grant accepted General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Northern Army of Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the American Civil War.
When the end is at hand in business – whether with a customer, a supplier or an employee – there are three lessons from Appomattox that can inform today’s leaders.
Lesson One: One of the most difficult decisions leaders must make is assessing the performance gap – whether real or imagined – that exists between your company and your supplier, your company and your customer, or between two colleagues. Your assessment will help you answer the hardest question of all: How much more time will we invest in this cause?
Lesson Two: Performance is a choice. The person or organization that is unable or unwilling to perform has made a choice and must be prepared to accept the consequences of their decision. Ensure the rewards and penalties for performance are specific, reasonable and clear.
The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. [Confederate Gen. John Brown] Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
Lesson Three: Handle your final meetings in a professional and respectful manner. It’s the right thing to do. And, you never know when your paths will cross again.
Character is revealed in moments of hardship. How your organization terminates relationships speaks volumes about your character.
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.