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Thinking Ahead–Letter from Chaille: Good Leaders Are Usually True Believers
America’s first president and great military leader offers lessons on leadership, and it may not be what you think. These lessons are helpful as many pallet and lumber companies face impossible odds in their business environment.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 6/3/2018

The United States of America is the country that almost wasn’t a country. Most Americans have heard tales of the courage and vision of America’s founding fathers. But when you delve into the details, it’s even more remarkable that the colonists pulled off their revolution.

Having just finished the book 1776 by David McCullough, one leader stands above all others. But it is not for the reasons that most people would expect. McCullough’s depiction of America’s war for independence made it clear that George Washington, general of the Continental Army, was far from perfect. When it came to military matters, Washington tended to be too careful and indecisive. Frequently, he was playing not to lose instead of fighting to win. And he was far from a brilliant military tactician although he looked the part and knew how to be stoic in the midst of the worst situation.

But I think what set Washington apart was his personal commitment to the cause and example that he set for his men. His story provides a road map for key business leaders in the pallet and lumber industry as they prepare to brave the future. Being in the wood business has never been easy. That is particularly true for pallet companies. I often say that if you can make money in pallets that you can make money doing almost anything.

While shoeless soldiers trudging through fields being hounded by the British and escaping only under the cover of darkness is surely a direr situation than running a pallet company, sometimes, it can seem too close a comparison for comfort.

Pallet companies face constant pricing pressures, limited supply and customers who will make new alliances for a nickel per unit. Just like in the Continental Army, it can be difficult to find troops to man the positions. As the British controlled the seas in the American Revolutionary War, small to mid-sized companies face difficulty supplying customers who want a more national management approach.

So, let’s explore these lessons in detail.

When George Washington took command of the army in 1775, he was only 43 years old, and he had never led an army before. However, he showed up looking the part of a general. Commenting on his research, David McCullough said, “George Washington was an impressive man to see, who appeared at Cambridge in a beautiful uniform, impeccably tailored, and he wished to be what they saw him as, which was the commander.”

Washington understood the power of visual communication, and he realized that his example could inspire the revolution or lead to its downfall. In your business, do you present the image that you want to inspire in your fellow employees or customers? You don’t have to be the smartest or best person to inspire confidence around a mission. Washington had his deficiencies as did the Continental Army. What you need is the ability to inspire others to achieve a dream.

McCullough commented, “George Washington wasn’t an intellectual like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams or Benjamin Franklin. He wasn’t a famous orator like his fellow Virginian Patrick Henry. Nor was he a brilliant general like Napoleon. What he was, was a leader. Men would follow him. As they ultimately proved, they would even follow him through hell.”

Why were many of Washington’s soldiers so loyal? One of the big reasons is that he had put it all on the line for the cause. Washington was very wealthy, and he had risked it all to help lead the revolution. When some of the fiercest fighting took place, Washington stayed on the battlefield with his troops to inspire them to keep on fighting. It is a miracle that he was never felled by an errant bullet or canon ball. McCullough explained the attitude of those who stuck with Washington. He said that one soldier commented, “If George Washington with all his wealth and position is willing to lay it all on the line, who are we to hold back?”

After the Continental Army lost Fort Washington in November 16, 1776, the situation seemed dire. The army had dwindled in size to about 3,000 men. It had shrunk from around 20,000 due to death, sickness, desertion, end of commission and capture by the British. The important thing is that although the force was small, those 3,000 men wouldn’t leave Washington, and he wouldn’t give up the fight. You will lose some employees to other jobs. Some may get sick or tired. But you must go to war in business with those who show up and stick around. It is important that you help them achieve their greatest potential. There will always be reasons to give up. The key thing to remember is why you must push ahead.  

Just like in the pallet business, life in the 18th century was tough, even for civilians. Hard work was a normal part of the day. Being in the Continental Army was very dangerous as thousands died either in battle or due to disease. While many people left the cause, it was those who stayed until the end that achieved the impossible. You can’t really do anything about those who leave your company, but you sure can try to inspire and get the most out of the people who stay and contribute.

Think about the odds stacked against the Continental Army. They had almost no navy. They lacked uniforms, gun powder and canons. Their generals were fairly inexperienced in battle. They were underfunded. Many almost froze to death during the winter. They certainly couldn’t stand up to the might of the largest military in the world at that time. But they did. Despite the odds, they pushed on. McCullough described Washington’s resolve. He said, “Washington refused to give up. He never, ever, ever would give up. He had never forgotten what the war was about.”

At first, they fought for their rights as free Englishmen, then they turned toward independence when the British government would no longer listen to reason. Nothing was certain in the battle for independence. Many stayed loyal to the crown because that seemed the most logical move. At first, the war appeared like it may be over quickly due to the might of the British military and navy. But the Revolutionary War dragged on for almost eight years.

McCullough said, “The more you study the Revolutionary War, which could have gone either way at several points, the more one can conclude that it was a miracle that it turned out the way that it did. We can never know enough about those people.”

Probably, Washington’s greatest trait was his determination to keep on fighting. McCullough said, “Washington never stopped. He never took a day off. He never gave up. He wanted to attack again and again.”

One of Washington’s greatest traits is that he learned from experience and tried to improve upon his failures. Early in his command, he was hesitant to take risks. Later in the war, it was his calculated risks that averted disaster or provided much needed victories. What are you doing to evaluate your experience? It isn’t experience that is the best teacher but evaluated experience. What key measurements are guiding your company and business improvements?

Probably, the greatest thing about George Washington is that he was a true believer in the cause. McCullough wrote in 1776, “It was Washington who held the army together and gave it spirit through the most desperate of times… Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake. And he never gave up.”

Sure, your business mission isn’t as grandiose as fighting for American independence or establishing a new country. But it should be about improving the lives of employees and making the supply chain work better. And those things are important.

If you need some inspiration or just are looking for some new employment strategies, consider attending the workshop put on by L&R Pallet in conjunction with Pallet Enterprise and Under1Roof Foundation. This workshop will be held September 26-27th in Denver, Colorado. It will feature Joel Manby, former CEO of Seaworld, Herschend Family Entertainment and SAAB USA. He will speak on how a new way of thinking about business can transform your company culture, grow the bottom line and retain your employees. The meeting will include a plant tour of L&R Pallet in Denver, a leading pallet recycler in the West.

Manby is the author of Love Works, a book and educational series dedicated to transforming corporate culture through Biblical principles. He will be leading a workshop to help you process through ways to improve your culture and stop the loss of good workers. For the last few years, James Ruder of L&R Pallet has been experimenting with ways to boost employee morale and keep good people, and he has been opening his process to others in the industry though small workshops. This year, Ruder has opened this gathering to anyone who wants to come. He said, “This meeting is not just for Christian business leaders in the pallet industry. It is for anyone who wants to improve their culture, retain more employees and grow their business. It just so happens that we use Biblical principles to guide our strategies.”

Registration costs $50 to cover expenses. This will be the best $50 you spend all year. Having attended other workshops, Paul Gaines of Madison County Wood Products, stated, “Visiting L & R pallet in 2016 completely changed the way we run our day to day operations. It also changed my life. We have started focusing more on our people, and we are getting results by doing so. Happy people are great employees!”

Do something different this year to improve your company’s future. Even if you have failed in the past, learn from George Washington who believed in the mission and never gave up. See the ad on page 14 to find out more information. Register today!

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The Power of Visual Communication