Being a construction attorney is more than knowing and applying the law. We are here not only to provide you with the best legal advice possible, but also to help your company succeed. With that goal in mind, I wanted to write briefly about a topic that might not seem immediately relevant, but I am confident you will find useful.

That topic is General Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, who we all know was a General in the Confederate army all those years ago. Stonewall Jackson is renowned today, primarily for terrorizing Union armies in the beginning years of the War. He was extremely successful though he was almost always significantly outnumbered, had inferior weaponry and equipment, and his soldiers were often starving. There were many reasons that Stonewall Jackson never should have had the success he did.

Despite those disadvantages, General Jackson became a world-wide celebrity after prevailing in many key battles in the beginning years of the War, particularly in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, against Union armies that appeared to be vastly superior.  There were at least five key reasons why General Jackson had the success he did.

Apply these five “lessons from Jackson” to your business, and I’m confident you will see positive results.

1. Strong Leadership –

In the beginning years of the War, Union generals were well-known for their timidity, indecisiveness and in-fighting amongst themselves. But Stonewall Jackson for the most part was just the opposite. He was self-reliant and aggressive, but he was also thoughtful and strategic. He was demanding of his soldiers and officers, but he was also an extremely hard worker.

General Jackson inspired his men by leading by example. He is well known for doing his work on the battle field (not miles away in the comfort of a fort or home base) and for rallying his soldiers—in the face of almost certain defeat—by getting his hands dirty and charging into the heat of battle.

I do not mean to suggest that a construction project is the same as a Civil War battle field—though you may feel that way at times—Jackson’s approach to leadership can serve as an example of what any leader should aim for. Lead by example, demand much of your employees, but work even harder.

2. Perseverance in the Face of Challenges –

In the battles he fought, General Jackson’s army was vastly outnumbered and out-gunned by his enemy. Yet he was able to succeed while facing tremendous odds. His army is perhaps best known for its long marches in horrible winter conditions, marching as much as 35 miles in less than two days. His brigade was known for its toughness on the battle field. They stuck in and fought, when others would have fled.

Every construction project will face challenges, and success is about how your company faces those challenges. General Jackson and his soldiers had a lot to complain about. What made Jackson successful is what he did when things got tough.

3. Adaptability in the Face of Change –

Battle fields are constantly changing, and General Jackson’s ability to adapt and make strategic choices under pressure differentiated him from other generals of the time. Construction projects are also constantly evolving, and change is a necessary part of this business.

Your company must change with the project and deal with circumstances that were not expected. Sometimes that means filing a claim, sometimes that means owning something that was not your responsibility. You need to be prepared to do either.

4. Morale –

Jackson’s troops faced horrendous weather and extremely long and unforgiving marches sometimes throughout the night. Yet when his soldiers were at their best, they would sing songs in joy as they marched forward, despite their malnourishment. They knew they were part of a successful enterprise.

Morale among your employees is essential to success. Short-term costs to improve morale can pay handsomely in increased efficiency and productivity. Improving safety and rewarding employees for hard work are important, necessary, investments.

5. Relationships –

Although Jackson is known for heated disagreements with other officers, his quarrels did not come close to those between Union generals in the early years of the war. Pettiness, ambition and lack of teamwork almost destroyed the Union army.

Relationships are essential to a successful project and any successful company. Building healthy relationships among employees, between employees and superiors, and between all members of the project, is key.

These five traits are just as indispensable to each of your companies as they were to Stonewall Jackson.