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Archive for May 2016

4 Inspiring Leadership Lessons from the 1st Memorial Day Observance

4 Inspiring Leadership Lessons from the 1st Memorial Day Observance

by Terri L Williams

The Department of Veterans Affairs, defines Memorial Day as a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the members of the armed forces whom died while serving during service to our Nation.



As you can imagine, there is much debate on the origins of the first Memorial Day BlightObservance. David William Blight, professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, states Memorial Day is an event that began on May 1, 1865, when group of former slaves in Charleston, SC gave a proper burial to 257 Union soldiers who’d been put into a mass grave.

The black community of Charleston then Blight-2consecrated the new cemetery with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people.” The event was initially called “Decoration Day” and was led by 3,000 black school children who started off by singing the song “John Brown’s Body.” They were then followed by hundreds of black women with baskets of flowers and crosses. After that, black men marched behind them in cadence, followed by the Union Infantry.





As a member of the military and veteran community, Memorial Day is a somber occasion of reflection and gratitude for me.   I personally reflect on the myriad of service members I served with in the United States an Overseas, whom died during their service or passed away years later.

There are 4 key lessons we can take away from the first Memorial Day Observance, which contributes to an overarching impact of our ability to observe our fallen comrades for more than 150 years. Each of these lessons is well integrated within the 4 pillars of executive presence, inclusive of first impressions, communications, gravity, and appearance.

1. HONOR, RESPECT, AND THANKFULNESS. Honor deceased service members whom fought for our country with a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for our freedom. The impact of the slaves’ honor, respect, and thankfulness has impacted our Nations gratitude for the contributions of more than one million servicemembers, whom died serving our nation. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 1-FIRST IMPRESSIONS and Pillar 4-APPEARANCE. The slaves understood the importance of burying service members appropriately and the impression this would leave on how the Nation would demonstrate its compassion for their efforts to the country. Understanding that the appearance of a mass grave was not appropriate for the ultimate sacrifice given by the deceased soldiers, whom were fighting for their freedom, the slaves set out to provide physical efforts of gratitude with appearances of soldiers marching and citizens bestowing flowers and crosses in their honor.


2. DECISIVENESS AND TIMING. Timing is important in honoring our fallen comrades. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 3-GRAVITAS. Major General Logan’s careful decision making on the time of the year to celebrate Memorial Day, speaks to a time of the year that is open and seasonally beautiful, mid-spring. This time of the year would allow most states to celebrate without weather concerns.Logan


3. COLLABORATION AND TEAMWORK. In 1866, the Ladies’ Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia, passed a motion agreeing that they would designate a day to throw flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers buried at the cemetery. The ladies didn’t want this to be an isolated event, so Mary Ann Williams, the group’s secretary, wrote a letter and sent it to newspapers all over the United States. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 2-COMMUNICATIONS. The ladies understood the power in collaborating (networking), expanding communications via newspapers, and expanding inclusiveness of relationships to be involved in the effort.


4. DIVERSITY. The impact of the contributions of slaves, the Union soldiers, and women demonstrates how different perspectives contribute to a untied effort for the good of everyone. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 3-GRAVITAS. While the groups were not at a single location to provide their input collectively, it is clear that each group was able to build upon the ideas of their processors.


1 “Memorial Day”. United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. Livescience.

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