Go and See

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It was a hot summer day in Gettysburg when my father
took me on a walk that followed the route of Pickett’s Charge. I was probably seven or eight at the time
and absorbing one of my father’s history lessons.

“Charge” makes it sound like a sprint, but Pickett’s Charge was more than
1000 yards over uneven ground. The soldiers had to walk most of it. As my father
and I walked in the oppressive heat, he offered observation after observation.
“This is where the artillery would begin to kill soldiers,” he said, “they kept

One of the many things I learned from my father is that reading is a
wonderful way to learn, but you understand so much more when you supplement
intellectual study with visiting the ground. No description of the battle can
match the impact of walking 1000 yards in summer heat and realizing that almost
every step would have been under fire.

I developed a passion for visiting battlefields to truly understand things I
had read about. And, as an adult, I took a leadership lesson from that long-ago
walk across that field in Gettysburg. You have to go and see.

Reading and reports are not enough. Whether you call it “going
to the gemba
” or “management by wandering around,” you need to go and see.

Harold Washington, the long-time head of Oakland Public Housing (OPH) set a
goal of walking one of the OPH buildings every day. When events made that
impossible, he felt uncomfortable and incomplete. He said, “No report you can
read will tell you how the eighth floor landing is being swept. Nothing you hear
from the managers can substitute for listening to tenants and asking them

One of my mentors had a sign in his office that said, “Nothing important
happens here.”

Boss’s Bottom Line

Go and

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