Gettysburg Leadership Experience

It’s called the Gettysburg Leadership Experience for Co-op Leaders – and for the managers and board members from electric cooperatives around the country who attend one of the three annual sessions, an experience is exactly what it is. Standing where key figures of the Civil War battle mustered their troops, thinking and talking about the dilemmas they faced and the decisions they made, the co-op leaders can imagine lessons of leadership playing out before them. We asked Paula Farquhar, assistant general manager of HILCO Electric Cooperative in Itasca, Texas, who visited Gettysburg in April, to describe her experience.

What did you hope to get out of the Gettysburg Leadership Experience?

Paula Farquhar: I’ve been to numerous leadership training programs, and you often get much of the same kind of information. What interested me about this opportunity was the concept of combining classroom instruction and discussions with the experience of actually going out on the Gettysburg battlefield.

How did your experience compare with your expectations?

PF: Being on the battlefield was awe-inspiring. I’ve always been interested in history, and of course I knew some things about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. But to be out there – to have our guides explain to us what actually occurred in various locations, and to think about the life-changing, split-second decisions that the leaders on both sides had to make and the courage they displayed at crucial moments – that made a great impression on me.

What moments of leadership on the battlefield resonated with you?

PF: One great hero was Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine. I felt like he was very courageous forgoing where he was asked to be – at the end of the line to protect the North’s flank – even though he knew he faced almost insurmountable odds. He realized he was the person who had to hold that line, and he displayed his leadership by showing courage and a vision to his subordinates.

On the Gettysburg battlefield, leaders had to make momentous decisions quickly, working with the information they had, which wasn’t always complete. How does that apply to what you and other co-op leaders do on a daily basis?

PF: We usually aren’t facing lifeor-death decisions. But what we do is similar to what happens on the battlefield in that we also have to think about all possible scenarios and outcomes, and we have be ready to make quick decisions when things change. We have to be flexible, and prepared to adapt. And like leaders on the battlefield, we have to show confidence in our decisions and try to make sure the people who carry out the plans can be successful.

Would you recommend the Gettysburg Experience to other co-op leaders?

PF: Absolutely – this was the most unique training experience I’ve ever had. A supervisor who attended with me said that, to her, the value was in realizing there were so many things she wasn’t approaching in the best way. The training opened her eyes and made her see there are better ways to get the maximum potential out of everyone. As the heroes of Gettysburg showed us, your success or failure as a leader ultimately depends on your most valuable resource – your soldiers or your employees. And the biggest impact on employees is who their leaders are and what they do.

Paula Farquhar is the assistant general manager of HILCO Electric Cooperative in Itasca, Texas.