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Unlike many Union generals, Chamberlain had no military training. Fluent in several languages and a college professor of logic and natural theology, he possessed a simple resolve to play a small role in keeping the Union together. As secession became a reality, he wrote passionately that it “was war upon the Union; and that meant the destruction of the United States - body, life and being.” When it appeared that he was about to die from a horrible wound, he was the only Union officer in the Civil War to receive a battlefield promotion to general.
In the habit of visualizing what his adversary might do, he would mentally prepare a strategy to meet the challenge. This mental technique dated back to his days as a college student when he struggled with his first adversary, which was his own speech impediment of stuttering. To succeed at what you want to do, he wrote, “…feel the emotion of it [accomplishment], and that will bear you to its motion.” In other words, experience the feelings of what you visualize and achievement will be set in motion. Not surprisingly he became an accomplished speaker.
Positive traits that would prove productive were his senses of fairness and persuasiveness. Just before the battle he was given a unit of belligerent Maine veterans who were in no mood to cooperate. Chamberlain had the option to treat them as prisoners preparatory to a court-martial for desertion. Instead, he initiated a relationship by distributing food while discussing what needed to be done. He communicated his vision in such a way that they became clear on his objective. By winning their confidence he now had the crucial number of fighting men necessary to carry out the next operation. But pressure was mounting fast.
Improvisation, another talent, came at the most critical moment. On the second day of battle Chamberlain's regiment, exhausted and nearly surrounded, ran out of ammunition. In a position that he was ordered to hold “at all hazards,” he stood at the very brink of disaster. He could surrender the end of the Union line, or he could fix bayonets and make a last-ditch effort to hold his position. There was no choice, his orders were exact: “at all hazards” was to be taken literally. He had to think quickly about how he was going to stand firm with his men from Maine.
He did not order a charge. “It was vain,” he later wrote, “to order ‘Forward’.” He put a charge in motion simply by screaming the word, “Bayonets!” “There are things,” he added, ‘whose seed is in itself.’” A commander was entitled to take credit for the actions of his men, yet he insisted for years after the event that his men were more deserving of credit on the second day. Nevertheless, the War Department cited him for bravery and awarded him the Medal of Honor.
Despite limitations you can succeed.
With limited resources you can still get the job done, influence others to act by simply saying a single word. When Chamberlain yelled “Bayonets!” after his men had run out of ammunition, this one word led them to charge ahead. They quickly discovered that their resources were not so limited after all. If you cannot find your calculator, use a pencil; if you cannot exercise by running, try walking; if you cannot find a teaching job, try mentoring; if you cannot do a project all by yourself, ask for help.
Use your imagination.
Twenty-five years after the battle, Chamberlain wrote of imagination as the force that “enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before…” Albert Einstein echoed Chamberlain many years later: “Imagination can go places where knowledge cannot.” Succeed by using your imagination. It can help you unleash unknown resources. It gives you the advantage to improvise on what you already have. It can provide the one answer you need. It is the mind’s back-up mechanism when all else fails. To “get” imagination, sit quietly, close your eyes and imagine the joy you are experiencing by having accomplished your goal. Then feel the excitement as if you already achieved your objective. Or, brainstorm with others to discover a workable idea, and the excitement of that discovery will influence you to find your solution.
Motivate by giving credit.
Give full credit to others when they contribute to your achievement; you will gain their respect. Recognition can also translate into someone else’s dedication to your objectives. You are leading others to produce by the influence of your positive words and actions.
Communicating your vision gets results.
Do not be surprised when subordinates act in a positive manner independently of you. What they are doing is anticipating you, instinctively aware of what you want them to do. You have effectively communicated your vision of where you want them to go. You have led them by the influence of your purpose. Their experience of your trust encourages them to exercise their own judgment, responsibilities and talents. The “seed [of productivity] is in itself.” If your organization is expanding, chances are you are being anticipated, somebody is already working on your expansion plans.
To realize a goal, first visualize it.
Visualizing and feeling terrific - “to feel the emotion of it” - about the outcome will assure better results. Improve job performance by visualizing the raise you seek, better grades by visualizing the scores you want, better health by visualizing the trim body you desire, and improved relationships by visualizing yourself with positive and uplifting people. Your visualizations will influence you to act in your own best interests. Every four years this technique receives mention during the Olympic Games.
Be certain you are understood.
When Chamberlain was told to hold his line “at all hazards,” the instruction was absolutely clear. Because he was able to communicate orders to his men without confusion or ambiguity, instructions were not misunderstood and victory was achieved. A powerful influence is a simple communication.
Copyright 2014 Paul Lloyd Hemphill