By Rose Miller, Contributing Writer
Maine Senator and former Governor Angus King visited Tom Saviello’s Maine government class in an event open to the public last Friday in Lincoln Auditorium. King used the story of Maine Civil War Hero Joshua Chamberlain as an allegory to engage the audience in a discussion about the attributes of a leader. The hour ended with a few questions from the audience after which several political science students took the opportunity to meet King.
After introductions from President Foster and his personal friend and State Senator Tom Saviello, King took the stage before a group of roughly 50 students and faculty, using a chalk board as his only visual aid. “One of the best ways to learn things is through stories,” King began, “so I’m going to tell you a story.”
Chamberlain’s story began in Brewer, Maine, where his determination as a self-taught student would lead him to Bowdoin by the start of the Civil War. King devoted a good deal of time to explaining crucial strategic decisions Chamberlain made at Gettysburg and his development as a leader proceeding the famous battle before broadening the discussion to explore the values that exemplify great leadership.
At Gettysburg, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were defending a hill called Little Round Top, a key point that would give Confederates a large advantage in the battle if they were able to take it. The order was, “hold this ground at all hazards,” King said, “fight to the death.” Chamberlain utilized an usual formation to surprise a line of Southern troops charging around the side of the hill to much success, but they soon ran out of ammunition. “Retreat was not an option.” Chamberlain gave the order for “bayonets” and the 20th Maine charged, turning that battle in the Union’s favor.
“Many historians believe that Chamberlain’s actions on this day saved the United States,” said King. “Chamberlain made decisions that day that changed American History,” he finished, “so what does that say about leadership?” “Vision is always first,” said King, “Chamberlain had a vision.”
Vision was the first of several values King listed, writing each on the board as he gave examples from Chamberlain’s actions or lives of other leaders in history and present day.
Good leaders need to do their homework, King explained. “You can’t outsource thinking, you’ve got to know it yourself.” Said King, “Chamberlain wasn’t a soldier,” he was a professor, but he read and he learned.
Communication is another critical tool that good leaders learn to utilize. “Winston Churchill had a serious speech impediment,” said King, “but he wanted to be a leader so he taught himself how to speak clearly.”
“Communication is a lot more than words,” said King. He recalled a lackluster delivery of what should have been a rousing speech by John Kerry following a primary win in 2004. King did a mock impression of what Chamberlain would have sounded like ordering his troops to fight hand to hand. “’Bayonets?” King said in an overly inquisitive tone, which received a laugh from the audience. “No! He said BAYONETS!”
But above all, according to King, Chamberlain possessed one of the most important attributes of a good leader. “Character.” It was the most difficult to define, King conceded, but integrity was crucial to the character of a good leader.
King discussed nine values of leadership, “you tell me the tenth,” he said. Among the audience members engaging with King were students from Saviello’s Class. After the event one of Saviello’s students, Senior Nick Bucci commented on King’s talk via email.
“I expected nothing less than a history lesson,” said Bucci, “but the point is leadership. Leadership is the key, especially for Tom Saviello’s class. At the end of the course, we are to present our views on leadership and weave in the views of people who came to speak to us over the semester.”
Former Maine State Representative and current student at UMF Lance Harvell also weighed in. “My impression was that he would fit right in to be a professor here.”
Before concluding with a few questions from the audience and a meet and greet, King wrapped up his thoughts by discussing the importance that decisiveness plays in leadership. “Failure is not an option,” said King, quoting Apollo 13 Flight Director Eugene Kranz.
“Don’t pass uncertainty down the line,” he continued, reflecting on Chamberlain’s decisiveness at Gettysburg. “I want you to remember Chamberlain, this man for what he did for our country.”
While most of the talk was devoted to Chamberlain and leadership, King did comment on a more hot button issue when Bucci asked the Senator’s stance on the recent controversy surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag. “I think we have a right to free speech,” said King, “if someone wants to put it on their truck, that’s speech.” However King felt it was inappropriate to display the flag on a public building.
Students interested in politics should keep an eye out for Representative Bruce Poliquin who will be visiting UMF on April 5th, although the exact time and venue are not yet known.