Leadership Lesson From Fixing Coffee

I cleaned the filter of grounds after brewing my 6 am cup of coffee this morning. The thought came upon me from a book I read when I was perhaps 11. A history of the American Civil War. A southern general (I forget which one) was leading his troops toward Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where there would be a significant engagement with the enemy. It was a leadership lesson that has stayed with me all these years.

While soldiers were marching toward their next battle, often the column would halt. No one along the line knew why or for how long. When the call came to halt, the soldiers would gather twigs from around them, start small fires, and brew coffee. They would hope to get the process done and drink the precious liquid before the march resumed. If the order to march came too soon, they had to throw out the partially done coffee and the grounds.

The lesson: this general would always pass the word back through the ranks about whether there was time to brew coffee or not. Despite all that was on his mind, this general thought also of his men.

How do we consider those around us? Those for whom we have responsibility? Do we have empathy? Do we think it’s our job to tell them how to live, what to do, as if they are mere objects?

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