I am enjoying H.W. Crocker’s book Robert E. Lee on Leadership. It is a treasure chest of leadership through the lens of a man almost universally respected as one of the greatest leaders in one of the darkest times in American history. One of Lee’s great strengths was getting rid of subordinates who were incompetent in either character or abilities and retaining and promoting good subordinates. For example, after an early failure in the war he got rid of numerous commanders and brought his entire army under two main commanders, Stonewall Jackson and Longstreet. Though Jackson had failed in an earlier battle, Lee saw his potential and kept him. Lee was a great general, in part, because he knew who to keep and who to get rid of. Also once he put in a man in authority he trusted that man to deliver. If he could not trust the man he sent him packing. Here is great quote about Lee’s relationship to Stonewall.
Lee later said of Jackson, “Such an executive officer the sun never shone on. I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done it will be done. No need for me to send or to watch for him. Straight as the needle to the pole [a compass] he advances to the execution of my purpose.” For those who seek to follow in Lee’s executive footsteps the lesson is clear: Find your Stonewall. Find subordinate officers you trust and who share your vision, and turn them loose.
To this I would add, be a Stonewall. If you are not in the lead, earn the trust of your leader, adopt his vision, and accomplish the objectives of your organization with passion, joy, and precision. Be a subordinate that the leader can trust without reservation. If you cannot do this in your situation then get out and let the organization pursue its objectives. Early in his life Lee was this type of man, a man under authority who did his job well and according to his leader’s desires. Perhaps this is one reason he could recognize a good subordinate when he saw one.