Doubleday was in the fifth inning of the war, but he never made it to second base for recognition of a command performance on the field. He was dependable, but slow to act. His army nickname, “Old Forty-Eight Hours,” was an amusing play on his last name. He did not fear leading, but he was reputed for “lacking brains.” A negative perception of him was the status he was forced to endure before he took command on the first day. Doubleday was an individual who could render suspicious any action he took. As a result, whatever leadership qualities he demonstrated were never fairly credited at Gettysburg.
Even with this handicap, Doubleday gave an admirable performance with the odds against him. He was successful in taking advantage of a Confederate position and capturing their general. But the tide of the fight turned against him from an enemy of far superior numbers. He did what many commanders would do in the same situation: he ordered a retreat to minimize his losses and to secure a better position from which to continue the battle. Based in part on misinformation that he ordered a premature withdrawal, he was quickly relieved of his command. He became a victim of his own reputation.
Despite the support of his subordinates who considered him a man of courage under very difficult conditions, one whose quick decisions on the first day could have earned him the new moniker of “Speedy,” he lost the desire to pursue another battlefield command. The rebuke of his superior left him resentful and bitter. Perhaps he recognized that the perception of him had become a liability he could no longer bear, or overcome, and he simply gave up.
Doubleday was a man of a double irony: he was credited for something he did not invent, and discredited for something he did not do.
Achieve credibility early.
Doubleday had little credibility with the officer corps before Gettysburg. Achieving small successes early will influence others to recognize your competence, reliability, or trustworthiness. Subsequently, if misunderstandings occur about your actions, you will be in a better position to present arguments to the contrary. The odds will be in your favor to gain support from others, maintain your reputation, and receive fair treatment from those in authority. It could mean your turning a potential foul ball into a home run.
Stand up for yourself.
When you are unfairly categorized or labeled like Doubleday, you have the right and obligation to set the record straight. Saying nothing implies silent agreement. State your case without prejudice and emotion, acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes in judgment. People are generally fair. If you explain yourself, you will influence others to see you in a positive light.
Root out the negative.
Doubleday failed himself by not approaching his accuser. To maintain high morale in any organization, confront privately the person who is making negative ripples. Do not back the person into a corner with no option to save face. Ask open-ended questions and look for answers that dispel negative impressions. Talk it out. If the problem is a person who likes to spread gossip, get rid of the problem. Otherwise, the result is misinformation, misimpressions, and maybe missed opportunities to utilize talent you could have misjudged.
Copyright Paul Lloyd Hemphill 2012
The Definition Of Leadership