The saddest part of any battle in history is what happened to the 93rd regiment of Scots in the War of 1812.
I’m obsessed with the bigger story of this war, and I wrote about it and the teamwork and psychology lessons we can learn from it in Dream Teams. But the story of the 93rd is an especially important footnote in history we’d do well to remember in our work today.
This group of 1,100 proud Scotsmen was required to each be over six feet tall. They looked awesome. They wore plaid tartan trousers and marched precisely to the tune of bagpipes.
They were practically boys. They’d been told by their king that if they served the crown well, they would be rewarded handsomely.
The British army was the most disciplined in the world. It had a strong culture of shared values: unflinching bravery, unquestioning loyalty, and impeccable obedience. When you received an order, you never questioned and never deviated.
The Scotsmen were among the best at adhering to these values. Until it killed them.
During the final assault of The Battle of New Orleans, the 93rd’s commander was shot right after he gave an order to halt. The troops halted. And then they waited obediently for their next order, standing like statues directly in front of Jackson’s rampart. They were determined to do nothing but “halt” until told otherwise.
Jackson’s men blasted them to pieces. Over and over they shot their cannons at these sitting ducks, taking out six hundred men before someone finally shouted, “Retreat!”
We might look at this story and say, “I would never do that!” But let’s be honest, how often in our own lives and work do we commit some version of this mistake?
How often do we, in the name of compliance or obedience or loyalty or some other VIRTUE, simply fail to act?
No one goes to jail for sticking with the party—even when the group is obviously doing a dumb thing. Doing the dumb thing together is the “safe” thing to do.
But no one changes the world by standing still when the world changes around them.
And sometimes in our quest to do the “safe” thing, we are actually doing something very, very dangerous.
As Edmund Burke put it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Teams fall apart, organizations get disrupted, and bad guys win when good people standstill.
So let’s step up, in our companies, our families, our communities, in favor of the smart thing to do. The big-picture right thing to do.
Pass this along to a friend in Congress, will ya? 😉