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A hundred yards away, at the far edge of the woods, a single line of blue soldiers were moving slowly forward, had stepped clear of the thick brush. (Robert E.) Lee felt a cold fist in his chest, and for a moment no one moved at all. Then, across the field, one hand went up, there was a small quick shout. The blue troops stopped, facing Lee, and there was complete silence. Lee could see their faces, saw them looking straight at him, at (J.E.B.) Stuart’s striking uniform, in stunned amazement. He thought, Surely, they must know…they must know who we are…who am. Lee turned his head slowly toward Traveller (Lee’s horse), thought about the saddle bag, the pistol he never wore, and he began to move slowly, heard his footsteps in the grass, looked again at the line of blue, muskets slowly coming up, pointing toward them. He looked at the one man who had spoken, the man in charge, the hand still in the air, hanging there, could see the man’s fingers balling slowly into a fist. Lee reached behind him, felt for the flap of the saddlebag, reached inside, felt the steel of the pistol, wrapped his fingers around the handle, began to pull it free of the bag, still watched the one man, the fist in the air. The hand began to move, came slowly down. The man said something, a quiet voice, the line of men suddenly backed away, merged into the thickness of the trees and were gone.

MLee said, General Stuart, we should move out of this field. General Hill, I would suggest you bring your people out this way with some haste. Those men could be in advance of a much larger force. We cannot allow them to reach this place…1

This is a fictionalized account of an incident that took place in the battle of the Wilderness in 1864. It may not have happened exactly this way. What struck me about this moment was the missed opportunity. Lee was the glue that was keeping the fledgling Confederate army together—the war may have ended a lot sooner if the “blue” soldiers had advanced and captured or killed Lee, Stuart and Hill. We may never know why they didn’t—perhaps they didn’t know what was in front of them.

Life is like this… there’s a lot we don’t know, sometimes even when it’s right in front of us. Everyday we need to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s opportunities. We never know when our “General Lee” will appear on the horizon.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Be alert to the opportunities in front of you.
  2. Carefully scrutinize what you see—there may be opportunities that aren’t readily apparent.
  3. When you recognize an opportunity, seize the day!
  4. Know where  your friends and enemies are at all times—you don’t want to be surprised by your enemy suddenly on the horizon.
  5. Be prepared, have the tools at hand (Lee could/should have been wearing the pistol) that are necessary for the task.

1 from The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara