Little Big Horn

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also called Custer's Last Stand, occurred over two days on June 25-26, 1876 near the Little Big Horn River in eastern Montana;The stunning victory of the combined forces of the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne tribes against the 7th Cavalry of the U.S. Army was the most famous of all of the Indian Wars.

The U.S. cavalry detachment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, lost every soldier in the unit through a combination of circumstances in which their Native American opposition was underestimated due to the convergence of overconfidence, exaggerated urgency, and inadequate assessment. The story and its lessons provide a platform from which to understand leadership principles important in today’s hyper competitive business environment, such as: hubris based on success, the importance of adequate competitive intelligence, the benefit of strong intra-unit relationships and trust;effective communication, and the need for focused decision-making under pressure in a highly fluid situation.

The program will emphasize and examine leadership through the lenses of both the Native American and US Cavalry perspectives on the situation, will feature the participation of direct descendants of Native American tribal leaders who fought at the Little Bighorn, and will explore the startling revelation that Custer, from the time he realized the real size of the enemy force he was facing, had less than 45 minutes to live. The role of rapid decision-making under intense pressure in the face of unexpected circumstances will provide a powerful backdrop on haunting terrain for an examination of the aspects of leadership, outside the decision-making role a leader must play, that affect the ultimate success of the mission far above the mere force of the leader's character and style.  

Methodology & Delivery

Participants will arrive in Billings, MT and register at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in time for a program start in the late afternoon of Day One. A program introduction and strategic overview of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is preceded by a reception and followed by a dinner in Billings.

The morning of Day Two we depart for the battlefield and conduct some initial briefings enroute. Once in the area of the Little Bighorn National Monument, we will visit the site of the massive Indian encampment in the valley, and from there proceed to the location of Reno’s line and river crossing in the early stages of the battle. Following two more stops on the battlefield, a gourmet boxed lunch will be provided, and following lunch we will visit two more sites relating to the locations of Custer’s two supporting units prior to the Last Stand. After returning to the hotel, an After-Action-Review (AAR) will guide the application of insights from the battlefield into a relevant focus for leadership in the workplace. Dinner on Day Two will be at a spectacular restaurant in Billings.

Day Three’s departure from the hotel to the battlefield will be early, and we will visit three sites on the battlefield relating to the final action on both sides. The battlefield portion of the program concludes at the Native American Monument with an examination of leadership from the Native American perspective, and is co-facilitated by a direct descendent of one of the warriors of the Little Bighorn battlefield. On the trip back to the hotel, a working lunch will prepare participants for the final AAR and exercises which will transfer the learning on leadership from the battle into specific and concrete strategies for improvement in effectiveness as leaders in the business environment. Departure is typically the early afternoon of Day Three.

Leadership Elements Explored

  • Inspiring others to action

  • Gaining enrollment

  • Envisioning and shaping the future

  • Displaying confidence in decision-making

  • Leading by example

  • Focousing on Individual vs. team success

  • Creating conditions for success for multiple teams

  • lnfluencing upward

  • Audacity in pursuit of objectives

  • Overcoming fear of failure

  • Tactical decision-making in a strategic context

  • Contributing to a team leader’s success

  • Managing risks

  • Capitalizing on momentum

  • Surrendering initiative

Benefits of Program

Through our exploration of the battle, participants of the Little Big Horn 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 the leaders in shaping the future

  • Building and sustaining teams

  • Managing processes

  • Nurturing learning

  • Maintaining 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 these benefits 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.

Cost-Effective Classroom Programs - - In addition to our onsite battlefield leadership experiential programs, we also offer one- and two-day experiential classroom programs for Little Big Horn.  Presented in a framework consistent to the delivery of our battlefield programs, the classroom format can be a cost-effective way to introduce or extend leadership training programs to a larger group of leaders and managers, and can be conducted on-site at a client’s location of their choosing.  

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 and Pre Work

The leadership training principles and concepts presented through the Little Big Horn 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 Little Big Horn Leadership training experience offers universal leadership themes upon which any leader will find beneficial to his or her career growth and/or organizational aspirations.

Though the onsite battlefield leadership training experiences are generally restricted to the months of mid-May through late June and September through mid-October due to weather and crowd considerations, the classroom Little Bighorn Leadership Experience can be delivered year-round.

Recommended pre-reading for the Little Bighorn Leadership Experience is either James Donovan\'s  A Terrible Glory or Nathaniel Philbrick\'s Last Stand