Change Management Lessons from the Battle of Cowpens
DANIEL MORGAN AND THE BATTLE OF COWPENS Turning the Tide in the American Revolution…and Lessons for Modern Organizations By Gary Vaughan, glvconsulting.com• In 1781 American General Daniel Morgan defeated a superior British force at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.• His total victory set the stage for winning the American Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown ten months later.• Morgan, known as “the Old Wagoner”, was a colorful character, and he had been a leader of Virginia rifleman under General George Washington.• Morgan’s challenge in the South was to overcome a string of American defeats.….
• Morgan faced a formidable foe: the fearful and “Bloody” Banastre Tarleton, who led a disciplined army of British regular and Loyalist troops.• In January 1781, Tarleton’s force of some 1,100 men was in hot pursuit of Morgan’s motley army of roughly the same strength.• In rolling terrain near the Cowpens, South Carolina, Morgan waited and carefully arranged his forces… Picken’s militia and sharpshooters in the front ranks, but with orders to fall back after the first volleys; then Howard’s disciplined regulars in support; and, finally, Colonel William Washington’s regular and militia horsemen mounted on the wings.
• At dawn, the advancing British charged the American militia. After a few volleys, the militia fell back in good order behind the Continentals.• The exhausted but exuberant British Highlanders lunged after the retreating rebels. Morgan then sprung his trap…• The Continental regulars’ gave withering volleys and decimated the British ranks. Few redcoat officers could rally their troops, given Morgan’s personal exhortation to his militia the night before to “aim for the epaulettes.”• The American regulars then charged the British, while Washington’s cavalry enveloped the redcoats on the flanks.• The British were almost annihilated, suffering 110 dead, 200 wounded and 500 captured, while Morgan lost only 12 killed and 60 wounded!
What does this little known Revolutionary Warbattle teach us about leadership, change andcollaboration for modern organizations?.....
LESSONS FROM THE BATTLE OF COWPENS Insights on Leadership, Change and CollaborationLeadership: General Morgan and his “middlemanagement” team (Howard, Washington,and Pickens) ensured excellent planning andexecution during the battle. Morgan tookcharge personally, spending hours the nightbefore, exhorting his rag-tag militia to “give metwo [volleys], my boys, and then go homeheroes to your wives and sweethearts.”Lesson: Morgan “knew what he was doing”and communicated this assurance to histroops. Knowledgeable, consistent andcommitted leadership (and feedback fromfollowers) is needed at all levels to effectivelychampion and implement change in modernorganizations.
LESSONS CONTINUED……Change: By painstaking deployment andencouragement, Morgan changed his troops’attitude about the prospects for victory. Hereversed the tide of the patriots’ defeat in theSouthern theatre. And he set the stage forWashington’s later victory at Yorktown, andwinning the Revolution.Lesson: Change management projects,properly led and coordinated, can alsotransform modern organizations andrevolutionize results. Just as at Cowpens,proper planning, timing and communicatingcan achieve extraordinary change andoutcomes for your organization.
LESSONS CONTINUED……Collaboration: Morgan closely matched histroops’ different abilities to his plan fordefeating the British: militia (with a poorreputation for fleeing in disorder) were askedto fire two volleys and retreat; moredisciplined regulars were to support the militiaand advance in formation; and the cavalrywere given free rein to gallop into the Britishexposed flanks.Lesson: Given proper technical deployment,focus on relevant business processes, and usertraining and support, collaboration softwarecan leverage the strength of today’s dispersedand diverse workforce. These user-driven,web-based workspaces can provide both theteam structure and fluid interaction thatMorgan used in orchestrating and thenunleashing the energies of his troops atCowpens.