Once a school superintendent and a town clerk, his administrative expertise qualified him as General Gibbon’s primary assistant. No manual on military tactics ever stated that an officer should use his sword as a motivational tool. On horseback he took creative measures to insure that his fellow soldiers would not lose their position or their perspective. Seeing the ground giving way to the Confederates, he saw what appeared to be a mass retreat of Union soldiers not under his command. Recognizing the significance of the Union position and the desperation of the moment, he did not seek permission to act. General Hancock was highly complimentary of Haskell’s moves:
“…at a critical point of the battle, when the contending forces were but 50 or 60 yards apart, believing that an example was necessary, and ready to sacrifice his life, [Haskell] rode between the contending lines with the view of giving encouragement to ours and leading it forward…”
Encouragement came in doses of blunt persuasion. To the many frightened men who appeared to be running away, he screamed at them to turn around, hold their ground, and fire back. “The fate of Gettysburg,” he wrote with elegant hyperbole, “hung upon a spider’s single thread.” With an attractive flare for eloquent subtlety, he added: “On some unpatriotic backs of those not quick of comprehension, the flat of my sabre fell not lightly, and at its touch their love of country returned…” By his words, he had a kinder, gentler approach to command. By his actions, he did whatever was necessary to get the job done. The moment was history’s cue to demonstrate that the sword was mightier than the oral command.
Perhaps accurately his own commander concluded that Haskell “was a young man on my staff who…did more than any other one man to repulse Pickett’s assault at Gettysburg…” History’s design for Haskell was to be at the right place at precisely at the right time.
As an appealing footnote to history, he would have made the nineteenth century version of the Guinness Book of World Records. Immediately after the battle, he sat down and wrote what must have been the longest letter ever written, intended for publication in newspapers. Writing with an ordinary pencil, he described for his brother in forty thousand words what he had witnessed.
Some problems defy ordinary textbook solutions. Under pressure you have the ability to think of solutions that challenge the standard, demonstrating that innovation can do more to influence your progress than traditional formulas for problem-solving. Haskell saw something that did not look right and influenced the outcome. He did not have to ask anyone what to do. Necessity forced him to invent measures to accomplish the task at hand.
Do it yourself.
Without being asked, take the initiative as Haskell did: do not wait for someone else to solve pressing problems. Plus, greater self-esteem follows accomplishment. Take on a project you are not expected to handle – any project. It can be helping a co-worker, washing your mother’s kitchen floor, making an unscheduled delivery, even cleaning your room. Do anything that does not fall into your daily routine. It will influence you to look at things with a different and fresh perspective. Surprise yourself with creative solutions you discover by yourself.
Copyright 2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
The Definition Of Leadership