Sunday, September 27, 2015

Taking the Battle to Business: Charles Herbek on Learning Fields

One of my great memories of fourth grade was discovering, in the back of the classroom, a large American Heritage book about the Civil War. I found it completely captivating, returning to it again and again, especially to study the battlefield maps with their diagrams of troop movements and terrain. The book instilled a recurring appreciation of military history, most significantly those periods from the Mexican War to the Civil War and that similar span framed by the two World Wars of the 20th century.

In recent years, as a result of social media, I re-connected with a New Jersey high school friend who now lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. If you know your Civil War history, you'll recall that much of this area became settings for skirmishes and numerous full-fledged battles between the North and the South.

Numerous business books have been written applying war strategies to business and marketing. Marketing Warfare by Ries & Trout comes readily to mind. Charles Herbek has taken this one step further, building a consulting business around these Virginia battlefields in which companies visit the sites themselves to more deeply experience strategic principles. I know from personal experience how visiting the Gettysburg battlefield helped me to more deeply understand what took place at Little Round Top and in Pickett's Charge. I found the program he's developed to be more than intriguing and sense it would have great value for participating companies.

EN: How did you come up with the idea for Learning Fields?

Lincoln meets with Union leaders at Antietam.
Charles Herbek: I have been intrigued by and schooled myself in military history from the first day I entered the Army in January 1975. I also formally taught Military History at the University of Richmond.

Additionally I have been conducting Battle Staff Rides for the University of Virginia Army ROTC program for the past 5 years as well as Battle Staff Rides for a company called Leadership Lessons from History for the past fifteen years.

My work at Computer Sciences Corporation required I become certified as a Project Manager.

I began to see a strong correlation between the Knowledge Areas (Scope, Time, Communications, Risk, Quality, Procurement, Human Resources and Stakeholder Management) and Process Groups of Project Management (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing) and the multitude of events that take place on the battlefields, particularly the Civil War battlefields in my region.

Watching management and mismanagement of projects cost millions of dollars of wasted funds, I decided that I could use this correlation to train leaders and executives to improve their bottom line by focusing on such business areas as Scope, Time, Risk, Communications Management. I would use the innovative method of a historical battlefield platform to focus on these identified business problem areas. And through the lessons learned from the battlefield commanders, help commercial leaders develop solutions to their own unique business challenges.

Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River
EN: Your training is directed to leaders. What is your past experience in leadership development?

CH: I have trained both formally and informally hundreds of junior leaders while serving in the US Army. As a commander, one of my sacred trusts was to ensure that the soldiers under my command received the best training and leadership available. I was responsible for many of the leader development programs. Additionally as a Commercial Project and Program leader part of my responsibility was to ensure the development of the professional technical and leadership skills of my employees.

Fredericksburg, aftermath.
EN: Why is the actual battlefield such an effective location for teaching leadership principles?

CH: Battlefields are places of inherent chaos that require some methodplogy to manage that chaos to stay alive, survive and win. Leadership quite bluntly is getting people to do what you want them to do when they are scared of dying. Battlefields have always placed a premium on this skill to ensure survival and hopefully victory.

Battlefield events are focused, the time frame succinct, and the response window very limited.

Being on the ground where the battle event and its correlated business processes took place provides a real time, unique, emotional experience, enhancing the learning opportunity.

Importance of managing resources.
EN: Why do so many leaders fail?

CH: Leading requires practice, humility, the willingness to learn from mistakes and a constant recognition that there are human beings in all parts of the equation. Missing any of these, even the mature leader runs the risk of a failure. There also is a tendency to believe success is possible simply because you can envision it, without full consideration given to the contrary realities of the moment.

EN: What will be the big take-aways for those who attend?

CH: The major take-away is summed up in my customer value proposition:

“How will I change my day-to-day business operations based on what I learned on this battlefield today?”

The specific take aways are an increased understanding of the importance and substance of the following knowledge areas.

Risk Management: All else pivots upon your skills in this area. Organizations unable to identify risk, mitigate risk, and resolve issues… will fail.

Procurement Management: The unsynchronized control of required resources will drive a stake through the heart of your schedule and potentially your ultimate success.

Human Resources Management: The selection, assignment, and team development of the employees who will deliver the results impacts the full spectrum of business operations. They are the ultimate action agents.

Communications Management: Without clear and understandable communications up, down, left, and right, organizational dissonance will prevail and not your organization.

Scope Management: A clear, understandable and fixed vision informs and inspires all committed to its success. There must be an initial center of gravity around which all things pivot as well as a method to introduce ordered change to that initial vision.

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For more information, visit

All B&W photos on this page courtesy the National Archives.

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