News at WilmU

Why Leaders Learn

A virtual military staff ride creates meaningful lessons in leadership. Here’s how.

man teachingThe United States spends billions every year on leadership development training at every level, from in-house introductory courses and full-scale executive-level leadership development initiatives to many undergraduate and graduate university degree programs. It’s apparent that both effective leadership and supervisory management skills are required for success now, at a time when many organizations are experiencing increased demand for efficient execution of strategic plans.

So leaders are intent on recruiting the best workers who can accomplish objectives. Wilmington University has always been a leader in providing students with excellent learning methods, regardless of fields of study — and that includes leadership development.

If we agree with researchers, professional educators and practitioners that excellent leadership is critical, then the question becomes how to provide students the training and education they need. Traditional instructional strategies and methodologies utilized today in many leadership training programs and college classrooms across the country do not necessarily trigger either the student interest or desired learning outcomes that many of our current and future students and leaders need and deserve.

Triggering That Interest — Virtually

WilmU’s College of  Social and Behavioral Sciences uses a virtual military staff ride of the Battle of Gettysburg as an educational tool for students. This simulation ties leadership development to real-life experiences, providing meaningful insights into operations and perceptions of leadership through vignettes and discussions.

Since the travel required for a typical on-site military staff ride could be time-consuming and expensive, an effective alternative is such a virtual presentation, which utilizes videos, maps, and print and audiovisual materials to place students in Gettysburg at its exact time in history. Detailed historic background is provided online for each participant, followed by review, discussion, and an in-depth study of the most critical decisions made by prominent leaders during battle. Studying good and bad decisions during the Battle of Gettysburg, from both sides of this tide-changing Civil War conflict, helps to maintain the training programs’ impartiality and objectiveness. Upon completion of this activity, students understand the importance of making effective decisions and the positive or adverse impact those decisions have on organizations, coworkers and professions.

Engraving From 1868 Featuring The American General For The Union Army During The Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman Lived From 1820 Until 1891.

U.S. Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman recognized the need for this type of training in the United States military in 1875, when he developed the staff ride concept for staff officers. Sherman did not have today’s technologies at his disposal, of course, but his theories combined with a three-dimensional virtual ride provide students an advanced opportunity to study diverse principles of organizational behavior and leadership development through the study of the Battle of Gettysburg. This tool renders opportunities to study enhanced supervision techniques, as well as management and leadership development.History provides inquisitive learners the chance to learn theories, concepts, principles and applications regarding the leadership in real-world situations. And WilmU excels at practical application. The lessons garnered from a virtual military staff ride come without the side effects or negative consequences that often accompany poor decision-making and leadership in the real world. Learning to consider both the humanistic and organizational impacts that decisions have on colleagues, constituents and organizations is a byproduct of this type of learning and can be a guide for any professional who seeks to sharpen his or her leadership skills.

The military staff ride provides practical leadership training to undergraduate and graduate WilmU students. Using our nation’s history to teach salient leadership competencies can be fun and pragmatic. When coupled with leadership training materials like “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times,” by Donald T. Phillips, or major films like “Gettysburg,” the military staff ride creates a unique and compelling learning experience.


Embrace the Future; Learn from the Past

As with all learning, developing critical thinking and effective decision-making skills by studying history can be enlightening and worthwhile. History does repeat itself to a certain extent, unless we learn from past mistakes. War often reveals our best and worst leadership traits. The Battle of Gettysburg was crucial to Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War, and today provides inquisitive learners with a unique opportunity to study leadership theory, traits, characteristics and applications. At WilmU, we offer students and future leaders every possible leadership and supervisory management development opportunity. The virtual military staff ride, like the one utilized for the Battle of Gettysburg, fits the bill as we dedicate ourselves to educating and training leaders to adapt to and meet the challenges we face — today and tomorrow. WU


Dr. Greg Warren is chair of the Administration of Justice and Homeland Security graduate programs offered by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. To learn more about the virtual military staff ride, contact Dr. Warren at

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