From a group of young Michigan professionals feeling the first warm rays of spring on their face after a long, cold winter, the upbeat chatter is to be expected. Ahead of them lies one mile of rolling Pennsylvania farmland, a late-afternoon walk in air that’s fresh and over ground popping with the season’s first shoots of green.
At the command of instructor Joe Mieczkowski, the march commences. It’s a walk that takes roughly 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Mieczkowski pauses along the way:
“2,500 left at this point.”
The laughter and conversation wane as the distance between the group and the stone wall is reduced. And understandably so. While this land is now covered in crops, somewhere below the surface is the blood of thousands.
This Pennsylvania field is the spot of the culminating assault known (incorrectly) as Pickett’s Charge. It is here that some 12,000 Confederate soldiers walked headlong into a hail of Union bullets, artillery fire and munitions. When the Michigan Farm Bureau ProFILE class finished its march across that revenant ground, it stood at a point where history tells us roughly just 100 of the 12,000 made it to. It was a spectacular and decisive failure, fueled in large part by a likely lapse in leadership and decision-making.
“If there is a better place to study the impact leadership can have than here on the Gettysburg battlefields, I’ve yet to see it,” said Mieczkowski. “In your careers, you will stand where Gen. Lee stood, where Pickett stood, where Longstreet stood. The question is this: How will you lead your troops?”
ProFILE is Michigan Farm Bureau’s Institute for Leadership Education, a leadership experience for MFB members ages 25-35. The 15-month intensive is designed to provide participants with opportunities and experiences to help them grow personally and professionally.
Prior to the Washington Legislative Seminar, the 2020 ProFILE class of 15 students spent two days in Gettysburg, learning about leadership styles, techniques and tactics as part of the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg.
The full-day course included classroom instruction at the historic David Wills House, where Pres. Lincoln stayed and prepared the Gettysburg address. The classroom instruction was then put to practical, real-world use on location where critical moments of leadership and decision-making took place during the battle at Gettysburg. From Union Col. Chamberlain’s inspirational defense of the unit’s flank on Little Round Top to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s fateful decision to attack the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge.
“Being in Gettysburg and seeing where the battle took place, thinking about how the decisions were made really was amazing,” said Casey Bozung of Kalamazoo County. “It’s something I’ll take back to my personal and professional life and will think about how I can be a better transactional and transformational leader.”
The Lincoln Leadership Institute is nationally renowned for its curriculum and has trained leaders from some of the country’s largest companies and brands. That reputation, according to the ProFILE participants, was well-earned.
“It was really an amazing experience,” said Matt Marston of Livingston County. “The hands-on experience and seeing exactly how the decisions and actions of those leaders changed history was awesome.”
The Gettysburg visit is just one facet of the 15-month ProFILE course. The group already participated in sessions on public speaking and, in September, will convene in St. Johns for media training.
“Our goal is to challenge the participants. We see this as an opportunity for their organization, Michigan Farm Bureau, to invest in them as a leader,” said Emily Reinart, Grassroots Policy