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Battle of Cowpens - Change and Leadership
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Battle of Cowpens - Change and Leadership



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  • 1. DANIEL MORGAN AND THE BATTLE OF COWPENS Turning the Tide in the American Revolution…and Lessons for Modern OrganizationsIn 1781 American General Daniel Morgan defeated a superior British forceat the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina. His total victory set the stagefor winning the American Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown ten monthslater.Morgan, known as “the Old Wagoner”, was a colorful character, and he hadbeen a leader of Virginia rifleman under General George Washington.Morgan’s challenge in the South was to overcome a string of Americandefeats. He also faced a formidable foe: the fearful and “Bloody” BanastreTarleton, who led a disciplined army of British regular and Loyalist troops.In January1781, Tarleton’s force of some 1,100 men was in hot pursuit ofMorgan’s motley army of roughly the same strength. In rolling terrain nearthe Cowpens, Morgan waited and carefully arranged his forces: Picken’smilitia and sharpshooters in the front ranks, but with orders to fall back afterthe first volleys; then Howard’s disciplined regulars in support; and, finally,Colonel William Washington’s regular and militia horsemen mounted on thewings.At dawn, the advancing British charged the American militia. After a fewvolleys, the militia fell back in good order behind the Continentals. Theexhausted but exuberant British Highlanders lunged after the retreatingrebels. Morgan then sprung his trap: the Continental regulars’ gavewithering volleys and decimated the British ranks. Few redcoat officerscould rally their troops, given Morgan’s personal exhortation to his militiathe night before to “aim for the epaulettes.” The American regulars thencharged the British, while Washington’s cavalry enveloped the redcoats onthe flanks. The British were almost annihilated, suffering 110 dead, 200wounded and 500 captured, while Morgan lost only 12 killed and 60wounded!What does this little known Revolutionary War battle teach us aboutleadership, change and collaboration for modern organizations?...
  • 2. 2 cowpenskmstory-130323201628-phpapp02.doc LESSONS FROM THE BATTLE OF COWPENS Insights on Leadership, Change and CollaborationLeadership: General Morgan and his “middle management” team(Howard, Washington, and Pickens) ensured excellent planning andexecution during the battle. Morgan took charge personally, spending hoursthe night before, exhorting his rag-tag militia to “give me two [volleys], myboys, and then go home heroes to your wives and sweethearts.”Lesson: Morgan “knew what he was doing” and communicated thisassurance to his troops. Knowledgeable, consistent and committedleadership (and feedback from followers) is needed at all levels to effectivelychampion and implement change in modern organizations.Change: By painstaking deployment and encouragement, Morgan changedhis troops’ attitude about the prospects for victory. He reversed the tide ofthe patriots’ defeat in the Southern theatre. And he set the stage forWashington’s later victory at Yorktown, and winning the Revolution.Lesson: Change management projects, properly led and coordinated, canalso transform modern organizations and revolutionize results. Just as atCowpens, proper planning, timing and communicating can achieveextraordinary change and outcomes for your organization.Collaboration: Morgan closely matched his troops’ different abilities to hisplan for defeating the British: militia (with a poor reputation for fleeing indisorder) were asked to fire two volleys and retreat; more disciplinedregulars were to support the militia and advance in formation; and thecavalry were given free rein to gallop into the British exposed flanks.Lesson: Given proper technical deployment, focus on relevant businessprocesses, and user training and support, collaboration software canleverage the strength of today’s dispersed and diverse workforce. Theseuser-driven, web-based workspaces can provide both the team structure and
  • 3. 3fluid interaction that Morgan used in orchestrating and then unleashing theenergies of his troops at Cowpens.
  • 4. 3fluid interaction that Morgan used in orchestrating and then unleashing theenergies of his troops at Cowpens.
  • 5. 3fluid interaction that Morgan used in orchestrating and then unleashing theenergies of his troops at Cowpens.