The Cowpens battlefield, located in northwest South Carolina, less than one hour from Charlotte, offers a rich metaphor for leadership development uses in the contemporary business world. Set against a backdrop of continuous defeats at the hands of the British Army, the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens is often positioned as the pivotal battle of the Revolutionary War in the South. The story of how an adaptive commander of a small and under-resourced American Army of volunteers, regulars and militia engineered a brilliant tlactical victory against superior British forces is a compelling vignette which addresses many leadership dynamics of contemporary relevance, such as: setting direction and establishing order in a complex and highly fluid environment, being situationally aware and improvising in the face of unexpected developments, harnessing diversity for agility in performance, engaging and motivating associates, and building trust and respect.

Methodology & Delivery

Designed as a one-day program on the battlefield at Cowpens, preceded by an introduction and strategic overview the evening before, this program can be easily delivered based out of corporate training facilities of companies located in the Greenville, SC-Spartanburg, SC-Charlotte, NC corridor without incurring the added expense of travel and lodging for participants; Groups from other locations will be housed in the Charlotte area.

The program is conducted on the battlefield, which is walked to help illustrate the subtleties of the terrain which figured so heavily into the leadership strategies and tactical execution of maneuvers in the battle itself. The conclusion of the program is an after-action review which will anchor the insights from the battle in specific workplace situations and applications for each participant, and can be conducted in the same manner for an intact leadership team as well.

Leadership Elements Explored

The above areas of focus on leadership will naturally evolve during the experience, but various leadership themes, competencies, and/or practices pertinent to a particular organization can be illustrated through a customized approach, and the experience can be directly tied to prior and/or subsequent leadership development initiatives or areas of changing leadership focus for a particular team.  If desired, organizational climate survey data, 360-degree leadership assessment data, and other existing development tools can be leveraged by customizing the program content further, and/or by integrating the battlefield experience into a more expansive intervention framework or program design.&#160

The level of reference to the program content can also be adjusted to reflect the level of leadership participating: for instance, with a more senior level of leadership, case studies involving the interaction between Generals Cornwallis and Clinton for the British or Generals Washington, Greene, and Gates for the Americans can be included to focus on the more strategic dynamics of leadership.

Additionally, a program can be customized to capitalize on or highlight key concepts or themes from required leadership reading or past (or anticipated) training content within an organization.  As an example, the content of Jim Collins’ recent book, How the Mighty Fall, can easily be amplified in a focused way through the leadership study of the battle; or, key command relationships, decisions and actions can be examined in the light of concepts contained in Stephen M.R. Covey’s work, The Speed of Trust.

Benefits of Programs

Through the exploration and analysis of leadership in the events of battle, participants of the Cowpens Leadership Experience will derive a number of benefits. Rich in adaptive leadership, this lesson from history provides participants further insights into:

  • The role of leaders in shaping the future

  • Building and sustaining teams

  • Delegating effectively and monitoring performance

  • Nurturing learning and creating a focus on development

  • Leading through ambiguity and complexity

  • Creating a climate of commitment and readiness

  • Achieving organizational alignment

Additional benefits include:

Greater Team Cohesion -- In addition to gaining new perspectives on leadership and targeted strategies for improved effectiveness as a leader, group participants will also derive a greater esprit de corps and sense of alignment. When intact teams participate together and share a common experience, the result is highly impactful and can contribute greatly to improved trust and respect among teammates.

Focused Customization-- An important added value for participants and organizations is the potential for customizing the content of a program and/or the placement of emphasis on a leadership practice 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 to make the program specifically relevant to all participants and the particular needs of that organization.

Additional Information

Who Should Attend

The leadership training principles and concepts presented through the Cowpens Leadership Experience can be tailored to meet the needs of the senior-most leaders or it can be geared to the  less-experienced, rising leaders within an organization.  Any leader who is positioned to have a measurable effect on the performance of the overall organization, or the effectiveness of their own department, would gain valuable insights and strategies for improvement.


Recommended pre-reading for the Cowpens Leadership Experience is Lawrence A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens, Chapel Hill Press, 1998 or Downright Fighting: The Story of Cowpens, the official National Park Handbook for Cowpens by Thomas J. Fleming, produced by the Division of Publications, National Park Service, 1988.