The Quality Of Experience

“Do not despair. Do not be disappointed if you see that you cannot accomplish all the good which you would like to accomplish. If you fall, try to stand up; try to overcome the obstacle before you. Get to the heart of the matter, to the essence of things.” – Marcus Aurelius

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, often referred to as Baron von Steuben, played a critical role in training and disciplining the Continental Army during its encampment at Valley Forge. After enlisting in the Prussian Army as a teenager, he served for over 17 years in one of the most professional and disciplined armies in Europe. The quality of his experience in training and war was unmatched.

Arriving at Valley Forge in February 1778, von Steuben was appointed by General George Washington to serve as the Inspector General of the Continental Army. He was given the difficult task of improving the army’s training, discipline, and organization.

How often do you hear of organizations in the modern world discussing their philosophy on training, discipline, and culture?

Von Steuben introduced a more systematic and effective approach to military training, drawing upon his past experience as a Prussian officer. Some of the key changes he made at Valley Forge included:

Standardized Training Procedures: Think of these as SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Von Steuben developed a standardized training manual, known as the “Blue Book” or the “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.” The training manual outlined drill formations, maneuvers, and tactics. This manual became the foundation for training unity and discipline within the ranks of the Continental Army. What manuals and operating procedures do you have?

Training in Close-Order Drills: Von Steuben emphasized the importance of close-order drill and instilled discipline through rigorous drilling exercises. He focused on improving soldiers’ proficiency in marching, maneuvering, and executing battlefield tactics as cohesive units. You may have heard the saying, how you do anything is how you do everything. Details matter.

Emphasis on Basic Skills: Von Steuben stressed the importance of mastering basic military skills, such as loading and firing muskets, bayonet drills, and melee combat techniques. He ensured that soldiers received thorough instruction in the fundamentals to enhance their effectiveness in battle. Being combat ready means you know how to do common things uncommonly well.

Officer Training and Leadership Development: Von Steuben conducted officer training sessions to improve leadership skills and promote accountability among officers. Battlefield leaders matter. Not only for victory but for morale. He emphasized the importance of officers leading by example and maintaining discipline within their units. Too few modern organizations have leaders that can live the example.

Improved Camp Discipline and Sanitation: Von Steuben implemented measures to improve camp discipline and hygiene, including proper camp layout, sanitation practices, and disease prevention strategies. These simple efforts helped reduce the spread of disease and improve overall living conditions for the soldiers. Improved living conditions translated to improved morale.

Von Steuben’s training methods and reforms had a significant impact on the Continental Army. The rebels were transformed into a more disciplined and effective fighting force.

While Valley Forge is often remembered as a time of suffering and hardship for the soldiers, it also served as a crucial period for the army to regroup, train, and strengthen itself for future battles.

“People mistakenly think that virtue lies in the knowledge of many things. What is important is not the quantity but the quality of knowledge.” – Leo Tolstoy

What are you doing to regroup, train and strengthen yourself for future battles? If you do not have the direct experience to improve how you train, where do you seek the best quality of knowledge?

Experience, reflection, training. You don’t have to have many skills. You need a few quality skills to perform common tasks uncommonly well. Show up and train hard.

Budgeting, operating, building, designing, planning, financing. It does not matter your role or your profession. If you want to be a professional, you must have the discipline to train like a professional.

Imagine what it would be like to find those with quality experience who can make you and your team perform at a higher level.

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