Program Executive Office Soldier personnel went on a Leadership and Professional Development staff ride to Harpers Ferry, W.V., June 13. They learned about change management as it applied to John Brown’s Raid. Participants also took a walking tour of Harpers Ferry to get a first-hand look at the pre-Civil War era town and the raid.Gary Pesano, Product Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, arranged the tour that drew 38 people from throughout PEO Soldier—including six from Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. He got the idea from a similar visit he did earlier in the year.
Pesano is currently in the Excellence in Government Fellows Program. His group went to Harpers Ferry to discuss the Executive Core Qualification topic of Leading Change. Jared Peatman taught the class that impressed Pesano. He decided to ask Peatman to conduct a Professional Development Program staff ride for PEO Soldier.
Peatman is a leadership and history consultant, and holds a PhD. in history from Texas A&M University.
Loretta Henderson, Chief of Audit Engagements and Compliance Division, was one of the participants and said it was a good opportunity to network with other people at PEO Soldier and to get to know them. “I was amazed at how many people I didn’t know that worked at PEO Soldier,” Henderson said. “More importantly I found it very interesting to get to know what/how people think and process information.”
MAJ Mia Bruner, PM Soldier Warrior, echoed the opportunity to meet other people these events provide.
“I would recommend more trips like this in the future,” said Bruner, who called the staff ride a great morale booster for the organization. “It allows personnel to get out the office, and meet and greet folks in the organization you would not necessarily speak to during daily business hours.” Henderson added she especially enjoyed how Peatman referenced John Brown’s type of leadership to the struggles of his day.
Harpers Ferry was the location of John Brown’s Raid on the Federal Arsenal there Oct. 16–19, 1859. Peatman said Brown, an abolitionist, believed in equality of all people, regardless of race or gender. At the time, West Virginia was part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was a slave state. Brown and 20 men attempted to seize the weapons at the arsenal to start a slave uprising.
One attendee stated John Brown’s Raid wasn’t necessary because slavery was on its way out. Peatman said that’s the Myth of Inevitability and debunked it.
“We’ve come to the view that slavery was doomed,” Peatman said. He pointed out slavery wasn’t dying out but was, in fact, strengthening. He offered three reasons for slavery’s rise:
- After the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves took effect Jan. 1, 1808, more slaves were brought into the United States, albeit illegally.
- The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 stated African-Americans, whether slave or free, were not American citizens. In addition, free states could not interfere in the slave owner/slave relationship even if they lived in a free state.
- The original 13th Amendment, proposed in 1859, was to ban any attempt to ever abolishing slavery.
What impressed Bruner was John Brown’s passion for his cause of equality for all.
“John Brown was an interesting man. I appreciated his care for equality amongst the human race and his courage during a time in American history when slavery and inequality of African-American people was commonplace,” Bruner said. “I don’t necessarily agree with his tactics, but I believe he was a freedom fighter to evoke change in such a tumultuous period in history.”
After providing background information on the Brown Raid, Peatman steered the discussion to change management. He brought up John Kotter’s Eight-Step Change Model, which he called “one of the very best change models out there.” The eight steps are:
- Establish a Sense of Urgency
- Creating the Guiding Coalition
- Developing a Change Plan
- Communicating the Vision for Buy-in
- Empowering Broad-based Action
- Generating Short-term Wins
- Never Letting Up
- Incorporating Changes into the Culture.
The responses varied on where Brown fell in these eight steps. One attendee said Brown couldn’t get out of step one. Another said he jumped around the steps before landing on step six. Bruner appreciated how Peatman linked Kotter to the discussion.
“The ability to tie in the ‘Eight Stage Process of Creating Major Change’ made the trip even more informative,” Bruner said. “I thought the trip had a great spin to it when we began to compare John Brown’s approaches to how we as Acquisition professionals make decisions and invoke change as he did during his journey leading up to Harpers Ferry. I learned that this process is very complex and not necessarily designed to adhere to step by step, but an effective tool to assist leaders with managing change within our organizations.”
The discussion next turned to how Brown turned the failure of his raid into a success. Peatman said the abolitionist showed flexibility by changing the mission of the raid. By the end of the first day, the original mission was a failure. They could have escaped. However, Brown and most of his men took refuge in the arsenal’s guard and fire engine house, now known as John Brown’s Fort. Peatman said it was there that Brown changed the focus of the mission. Instead of trying to create a slave uprising, he decided it was better to create a public spectacle. Eventually, 88 Marines—led by Army Col. Robert E. Lee—captured Brown and his raiders.
“Only way he could be successful was to be a story,” Peatman said. He added Brown made a conscious decision to stay.
Peatman said the raid and the resulting trial affected the North and South differently. It hardened the case for secession in the South because abolitionists attempted to use force to carry out their agenda. To Northerners, it showed how rabid Southerners were in defending slavery.
The trial “reveals how separate these two parts of the nation have become,” added Peatman. The trial turned people’s attention to the question of slavery and got people talking about Brown’s raid and slavery.
“He willingly hangs six weeks later to create a story,” said Peatman, noting Brown went to the gallows smiling. “I think the brilliance of John Brown is how he adjusts the plan when the plan starts falling apart.”
Peatman ended the presentation at the memorial to Heyward Shepherd, a freed slave who worked as the B&O Railroad baggage master. He was the first casualty of the raid when he attempted to warn the town. The Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans erected the memorial in 1931. The words are controversial because of how it attempts to portray African-Americans. Henderson said the memorial was the best part of the staff ride.
“What they described in stone told me that what you do in the moment may last forever,” Henderson said. “So as you paint your picture of life, make sure it accurately captures what you want folks to know about your legacy 50 years from now.”