Civil War Major General William Tecumseh Sherman is best known for his role in “March to the Sea.”
Following a successful capture of Atlanta, he led Union troops toward the Atlantic Ocean, ending in the capture of Savannah and eventually the surrender of the Confederates.
Today, his name is still “cursed” in parts of the South because of the destruction he wrought on the landscape there, according to History.com. “But he is also recognised as a great strategist, a forceful leader, and — together with Ulysses Grant — the ablest Union general of the war.”
But what distinguishes Sherman from other military officers was his lack of appetite for rankings, power, and public recognition.
In his recently released book, “Ego is the Enemy,” Ryan Holiday suggests that this characteristic played a part in Sherman’s success as a strategist and military officer.
When Abraham Lincoln promoted him to brigadier general, Sherman reportedly requested that Lincoln ensure that Sherman wouldn’t have to “assume superior command.” After his retirement from the military, he refused to run for the United States presidency, despite being encouraged to do so. Today, the expression “Shermanesque” is a slang for anyone who rejects the suggestion that he or she should run for political office.
Holiday believes that Sherman’s disinterest in fame and attention meant that he was able to concentrate on his mission to help lead the Union to victory.
Sherman’s actions reflect the characteristic that Holiday believes truly great leaders possess: a commitment to “do” over to “be.”
He had a clear purpose that allowed him to block out the distraction that hunger for power and prestige can pose. That purpose was to end the Civil War, and he focused on this task above all else.
He didn’t let his ego get in the way, according to Holiday. He understood his ability and where his skills and experience would the most valuable, and he believed that was not as Commander in Chief.
Holiday writes, “What we see in Sherman was a man deeply tied and connected to reality.” And our ability to be honest in assessing our capabilities, according to Holiday, “is the most important skill of all.”
“It’s easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated by your own work,” he writes. “Any and every narcissist can do that. What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”
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