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“Taking Leadership Lessons From The Battlefield to the Boardroom”

The History of the Staff Ride

"If You Want A New Idea, Read An Old Book"

The Corporate Staff Ride evolved from the training tools originally conceived by Prussian General Count Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), genius of the 19th century German General Staff. The first Staff Rides were conducted at sites chosen for their potential in wargaming hypothetical operations against potential enemies. The old battlefields near France were a favorite location. The very near success of the opening offensive of World War I - the subject of numerous staff rides in the years before 1914 - is just one sobering example of just how effective the staff ride can be.

Arthur Wagner

Staff rides were promoted in America by Colonel Arthur L. Wagner (1853-1905), a prominent author, teacher, and one of the “fathers” of modern military intelligence. His critique of the Army’s educational system was confirmed by his observations in both Cuba and Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War which revealed weaknesses in preparation among the American officer corps. Among other suggested remedies, he believed in the constant, systematic and practically-oriented study of military history, especially the use of a staff ride at a Civil War battlefield. In July 1906 Major Eben Swift, the assistant commander of the Staff College (forerunner of today's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, took twelve student officers on a two-week tour of the Civil War battlefields between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

The use of more recent battlefield first became the focus of Staff Rides after World War I. In 1922, American units stationed in Germany had conducted Staff Rides over the recent battlefields and the 1870 battlefields around Metz, and GEN John J. Pershing suggested that War College students participate with French counterparts in a staff ride to the Meuse-Argonne region. COL Oliver L. Spaulding, director of the Historical Section called the proposal "practical but undesirable" since he believed it would be better to study an American campaign "here on its own ground." After that, staff rides essentially disappeared.

In the spring of 1983, the Staff Ride was reinstituted - at Leavenworth an elective course and the Army War College as a volunteer activity. Since then the Army and the Marines utilized this training technique at every level of command, from ROTC cadets to the top ranks of the Defense Department.

By analyzing past examples of decision-making under crisis, concrete lessons emerge applicable to other spheres - including business and social enterprise - where such lessons can be applied for success. One result of the staff ride is the realization that the continuing study of applied history - especially through the CORPORATE STAFF RIDE experience - is not merely engaging, or the pursuit of “history buffs”, but can be the source of on-going, professionally rewarding, career-development and training tools.

Last Update: October 2013