Our Leaders Develop Yours

by Lorraine Grubbs

As a team builder, we look for bold venues to teach leadership classes. That’s how we discovered the U.S. Strategic Leadership Center located on the Battlefields of Gettysburg, PA. We were seeking to teach decision-making under difficult conditions for a group of leaders from General Insulation. Walking the fields of this historic Civil War site with retired military Generals discussing the life and death decisions made by the Civil War leaders as they fought for their very survival, made these lessons real.

Our group walked away in awe of the incredible sacrifices made by the men who fought in this epic battle. Armed with the historical lessons learned, we left better equipped to make decisions and more effectively lead our teams.

Meet Robert Monahan, the man behind the U.S. Strategic Leadership Center. His vision to recreate the three-day conflict from which modern day leaders could learn impressed me. What made him see the potential these battlefields held for leadership development? Here is his story.

I grew up in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, home of one of the most deadly battlegrounds of the Civil War. From July 1st to the 3rd 1863, over 50,000 troops from both sides were injured or died on these hallowed grounds. I had a great history teacher who was an expert on the battle. His lessons included tales from the soldiers’ and leaders’ perspectives from both the North and the South. He instilled in me a lifelong interest in Civil War history and leadership. As I routinely drove by the battlefields I would imagine his stories while visualizing the cannons blasting and bayonets clashing.

Having worked with leaders of our modern military and serving in the Reagan White House as a special assistant to the Secretary of Transportation, I developed a deep respect for the dedication and sacrifice of those who have served and led in our military throughout our nation’s history.

In 1993 Director Ronald Maxwell released the movie “Gettysburg”. My wife and I went to see this four-hour epic and felt that we could tell the story of Gettysburg more concisely. Driving home, we passed the battlefields illuminated by a full moon. My imagination conjured the ghostly specters of the soldiers and I realized I needed to tell a different story. I wanted those who came to Gettysburg to understand the lessons learned in the way my history teacher had instilled them in me. I called my producer friend in Hollywood and started the ball rolling.

Gettysburg attracts more than 2 million visitors per year and the town had not kept pace with that growth. The history lessons were scattered throughout the area with little effort made to tie them together. My mission became to build a learning center to study the battle, include tours of the fields and a movie theatre to show our production. I knew we would also need a hotel to house the students. My quest was to gather the stories of leadership and courage and share them in one leadership laboratory. That was the start of my journey to create the U.S. Strategic Leadership Center.

I wanted the center to be based upon the tactics taught by modern military leaders. As a student of leadership, I knew the military has proven that leaders are made, not born. Therefore, who better to teach these principles than battle-hardened retired generals? These senior officers had served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones. They rose to the highest ranks in the military because they are great leaders. We knew this group would have the confidence and communication skills to transition the lessons of battlefield leadership to the private sector. These military “professors” would teach high-level leadership lessons on communication, decision-making and motivation under extreme duress through the lens of the Gettysburg battlefield.

I’m happy to report that our center has become a corporate learning laboratory based upon military principles. It’s connecting the historic personalities with the current military culture and principles and tying it together for corporate leadership development.

The leaders who have come through our doors have walked out with a better understanding of what it takes to be more effective both personally and professionally. I am proud of the contribution the U.S. Strategic Leadership Center has made to not only the local economy of Gettysburg, but to the education of leaders worldwide.

I don’t consider what I’ve done to be bold. I saw a need, had the good fortune to be able to make it happen and am seeing the results of that effort. I may not always take the straightest course to get to my destination, but I am determined and don’t veer from my mission. If I have any “secret”, it would be my unwavering passion, faith, determination and being smart enough to surround myself with people who believe in the vision. I’ve taken risks and known failures. That’s part of the learning process. One must have the confidence to rise above failures and learn to revaluate, refine and move on. If being bold means realizing your vision, then, yes, I guess I’ve been bold.

Today, as our senior leaders exit the workforce, companies need to prepare the next generation to carry the torch. The U.S. Strategic Leadership Center is a good resource. We take the leadership lessons from history and apply them to today’s environment. Leaders change; principles do not. As I step up to co-chair the Congressional Medal of Honor this year, I remain steadfast in my vision…that the military fields of Gettysburg hold rich leadership lessons.


  • Have you taken the time to look up and see the big picture? Like Robert, who tied all the pieces of the Gettysburg experience into one, what is the “one thing” you can do to impact the big picture at your company?


  • Top military leaders expect to be promoted every two years. In order for that to happen, they must constantly seek to improve. If they fail to be promoted, they are usually retired soon thereafter. As a leader, what are you doing to improve your skills in order to get promoted within 2 years?


  • Our world is fast-paced and situations ever-changing. How equipped are you to make decisions under those conditions?


Author’s Note:

VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity…concepts coined by the US Army War College after the Cold War and still true today. The battlefields of Gettysburg and the lessons taught by the military leaders at the U.S. Strategic Leadership Center will help prepare you to better face that uncertainty. History is a great teacher. To read more about the adventures we had with the Strategic Leadership Center, go to www.lorrainegrubbs.com and buy the book, “Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone”

Lorraine is a Team Builder, Speaker and Author.  To learn more about what she does go to www.lorrainegrubbs.com



ca. 1880s, Little Round Top, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA — View of a war memorial atop Little Round Top at the Gettysburg battlefield. By the 1880s there were many such memorials at Gettysburg. — Image by © CORBIS