Chickamauga Leadership Experience

The September 1863 Battle of Chickamauga (in Northwest Georgia) provides a rich metaphor for exploring the leadership skills required to survive and succeed today’s business environment.

During the three days in mid-September, the engagements between a Confederate force totaling nearly 67,000 and a Union force totaling approximately 57,000 evolved into complex operations and were fought over challenging terrain.  Added to this were the interpersonal tensions and stylistic shortcomings among the Confederate high command in the face of fragmented initiative and ambiguous direction of Union forces.  The Battle of Chickamauga provides a strong framework from which to discuss how leaders view, plan and mobilize around a strategic focal point.  The important rail-hub city of Chattanooga was at stake, which if captured by the Union, could create a “Gateway to Atlanta,” and further cripple or kill the Confederacy.

Case studies of the situations and the leading participants engaged at the Battle of Chickamauga provide a strongly evocative context within which to examine leadership from the participants’ perspective as it relates to their own company or work team.



Methodology & Delivery

Participants to the Chickamauga Leadership Experience typically arrive in the mid-afternoon at The Chattanoogan Hotel in downtown Chattanooga. An early-evening strategic overview of the Battle of Chickamauga and an introduction to the main characters in the drama, followed by a relevant video presentation, is the prelude to the next full day and a half, which traces the events of September 18 – 20, 1863 and the following Siege of Chattanooga in a battle sometimes referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West” or the “Gateway to Atlanta.”

Our two-day program takes us to poignant sites rich wwith lessons and perfect for leadership discussion and reflection, including: Reed’s Bridge, where Union cavalry held off Confederate infantry for more than nine hours; Jay’s Mill, where the “meeting engagement” begins as the armies collide; Poe Field, where Union troops reformed to stop the surging rebels; and Point Park on Lookout Mountain, a Confederate stronghold and a spot from which to discuss U.S. Grant’s bold plan which ultimately seized victory from the jaws of defeat.

With all of our battlefield programs, we use the military staff ride format to walk in the footsteps and stand in the very positions of the military leaders in those long-ago encounters.  By knowing what they knew and seeing what they saw, the experience “comes to life” in the present, and the emphasis in learning is focused on the how and why behind the events and actions in the battle, rather than on the tactics themselves.

Each day is brought into focus in an After Action Review (AAR), which makes more explicit the insights gained in discussions on the field and transfers the lessons learned to concrete workplace considerations.

Leadership Elements Explored

The Chickamauga Leadership Experience allows for multiple leadership takeaways. However, the most prevalent learnings from this program include:

  • The importance of intelligence gathering in fluid and ambiguous circumstances and of maintaining organizational readiness for execution

  • Communicating effectively during rapidly changing circumstances and the importance of understanding the advantages of “key terrain”

  • Personality traits and the relationship between overbearing pride, complacency, style, organizational structure and confidence, and the critical concept of “the location of the leader”

  • The effect, and characteristics, of adaptive leadership and situational awareness in the face of unexpected circumstances

  • The crucial role of intellectual curiosity, initiative and innovation in effective leadership, selecting the right leaders for critical assignments, and an understanding of the factors leading to reasonable risk-taking

  • The effect of independent mindsets among peers, uncoordinated action and lost opportunity

  • The role of clarity and leadership follow through to ensure effective execution is clearly

  • The role of quick, decisive action, leadership initiative and focused determination and personal confidence and command presence

Benefits of Programs

Through our exploration and analysis, participants of the Chickamauga Leadership Experience will take away a number of benefits.  Rich in character-based leadership, this leadership lesson from history provides participants further insights into:

  • The role of leaders in shaping the future

  • Building and sustaining teams

  • Managing processes

  • Nurturing learning

  • Managing order through chaos

  • Effectively communicating and understanding intent, setting clear direction and expectations, and achieving organizational alignment

  • Additional benefits include:

Greater Team Cohesion -- In addition to gaining and experiencing new perspectives on leadership, group participants will also derive a greater esprit de corps.  When intact teams participate together and share a common experience, the result is highly impactful and can contribute greatly to achieving organizational alignment.

Tailored Customization -- An important benefit to participants and organizations alike is when we customize the content of a program and/or place emphasis on a leadership aspect that has been deemed critical to the participating organization.  By gathering information from pre-session interviews or teleconferences with program sponsors and/or HR leaders, we can focus in on specific events, characters and dynamics of the battle and its leaders to make the program highly relevant and situational to all participants and the needs of that organization.  Additionally, our battlefield programs can be modified to use and integrate a company’s respective core competencies and leadership models. Further, program agendas can be adjusted to meet specific time constraints and desires of the participant companies.

Additional Information

Who Should Attend

The leadership training principles and concepts presented through the Chickamauga Leadership Experience can be tailored to meet the needs of the highest level senior leaders to the less-experienced yet rising leaders within an organization.  The Chickamauga Leadership training experience offers universal leadership themes upon which any leader will find beneficial to his or her career growth and/or organizational aspirations.


Recommended pre-reading for the Chickamauga Leadership Experience is Steven Woodworth's Six Armies In Tennessee.