Immersive Gettysburg Experience Shows Business Students How to Leadby Liam Farrell | Photo illustration by Matt Laumann / Padfolio image by iStock
It’s one of the most visceral displays of competing leadership in American history: two armies, face-to-face in the fields and hills near a small Pennsylvania town in the summer of 1863, fighting for the fate of a nation and its enslaved people.
And while the stakes in an average company boardroom don’t reach the heights of the Battle of Gettysburg, UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business believes students and professionals can learn a lot from the decisions of Robert E. Lee, George Meade, James Longstreet and Joshua Chamberlain. In December, the school renewed a partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation to educate executive development clients and executive MBA students with one of the Civil War’s turning points.
“You have this amazing, living, immersive leadership development experience,” says Jeffrey Kudisch, a clinical professor in the Department of Management and Organization who helps lead the program. “People don’t only learn about the battlefield, they learn more about the leaders involved in the battle, and ultimately, more about each other.”
Rather than looking at specific tactics employed over the course of those three July days, the program delves into the leadership qualities of soldiers and how they led to success or failure. Participants take a personality assessment beforehand that allows them to compare themselves to historical analogues, seeing how Chamberlain’s inspirational approach helped secure Little Round Top and Daniel Sickle’s narcissistic, dominant style weakened the Union’s defenses.
It’s a gateway to considering how concepts such as teamwork, strategic thinking, succession planning, persuasion and conflict management function in students’ own workplaces, Kudisch says.
“They can see themselves,” he says. “It’s where psychology meets history, and where self-reflection fuels leader transformation.”
Sue Boardman, the leadership program director and a licensed battlefield guide for the Gettysburg Foundation, says even history-skeptical participants are won over by walking in the footsteps of Civil War figures and seeing how mentorship and toxic leadership expressed themselves on the field.
“That’s our target audience: the six who would rather go to the dentist,” Boardman says. “We try to introduce these characters as real people.”
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