Cigars, Whiskey, and Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant

By Lester, Richard I. | Aerospace Power Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Cigars, Whiskey, and Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant


Lester, Richard I., Aerospace Power Journal


Cigars, Whiskey, and Winning. Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant by Al Kaltman. Prentice Hall Press, Paramus, New Jersey, 1998, 322 pages, $22.00.

Dr. Al Kaltman's Cigars, Whiskey, and Winning a minor masterpiece of analysis, deals with Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant's ability to advance leadership to a higher art form. Expressed as a grade, this book deserves an A. Kaltman makes a formidable contribution to our understanding of why General Grant was so effective in doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons. The author writes in a lively and provocative style. His treatment of Grant's leadership practices is clear, concise, and thought provoking; and he has put together a gold mine of information, commentary, and useful tools applicable to both military and civilian leaders at all levels within an organization.

Based largely on the general's autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, the book is organized into 11 chronological periods in the life of this towering figure. Using well-selected historic examples, each chapter is subdivided into a number of cogent lessons. Each lesson is based on a lucid account and vigorous analysis of key concepts taken from Grant's own literary composition and personal experiences. There are 250 lessons in all, each intended to get the reader to appreciate Grant, the quintessential military strategist and tactician. These lessons are soundly researched by the author and possess great value, not only as a basic reference work for the period, but as insightful, solid, and useful pieces of practical wisdom for more effective problem solving and decision making by leaders in a highly competitive world. People seriously interested in developing personal leadership potential or the leadership potential of those around them should own a copy of Cigars, Whiskey, and Winning and should read it again and again to see what they missed on previous readings. For these reasons and more, this book is a work of capital importance.

Learning leadership lessons from history is an excellent means of pursuing leadership development, and Kaltman's book successfully facilitates this process. History, studied in this way, gives its students an opportunity to relate hypothetically with significant figures such as Grant; more importantly, it can provide metaphors for more ef fectively dealing with contemporary leadership and executive issues. The strategy addressed in this book is simply to teach through historic example.

Someone once said, "There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened." Ulysses S. Grant is one of those rare people who knew how to "make things happen" and did. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and Grant's foremost adversary in the American Civil War, said, "I doubt his superior can be found in all history." Abraham Lincoln added, "The great thing about Grant . . . is his perfect correctness and persistency of purpose."

Al Kaltman's book sends an array of clear messages to the student and practitioner of the art of leadership. The author emphasizes that Grant was a perceptive and surprisingly modern leader-a pragmatist who learned from his own and others' successes and failures. As exemplified by Grant's writings and actions, leadership is making what you believe in happen. He demonstrated that leadership is courage, determination, skill, strategy, and luck. Grant understood only too well that leadership is a lot like surgery-it's traumatic, tedious, and emotionally draining. Yet, as commander of the Union forces during the Civil War, he never failed to rise to the occasion and do his utmost in what he thought was right.

The author suggests that a large part of Grant's success was that he was sharply focused and valuebased. He always asked two simple questions: What is our purpose? What is our strategy to accomplish that purpose? Grant's thinking took the form of a trilogy: Is it simple? …

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