Two Words That Make A World Of Difference
Do people work for you or with you?
Years ago our church offices were in the same corporate park as a well-know orthopedic surgeon. My sister worked as a nurse in this physician’s office.
One day the surgeon and I happened to walk out to the parking lot at the same time. I introduced myself and said, “My sister works for you.” He stopped me and said,
The doctor’s choice of prepositions spoke volumes. To him my sister was not a little cog in a big wheel, but a significant player in that band of medical professionals.
That incident came to mind when I read the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Prior to becoming President, Grant was an army man. Early in his career he served as a junior officer in the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848), a military conflict over the annexation of Texas.
Grant served under Generals Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor in that campaign. Grant’s service gave him a unique perspective on both officers. Reflecting on the differences between the two generals, Grant writes:
About General Taylor . . .
General Taylor never wore uniform, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed….
About General Scott . . .
General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars.
- He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines;
- Word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed.
- On these occasions [Scott] wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, saber and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff – engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared – followed, also in uniform and prescribed order.
- Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they should be a history of what followed.
Differences in communication . . .
In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly as in their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking about without the least embarrassment.
Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of high-sounding sentences.
But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings.
The contrast between the two generals was significant. The officers—like many leaders today—differed in a variety of ways, but nowhere as much as in their mindset toward their co-workers:
Soldiers served under Scott, they served with Taylor.
Like the doctor with whom my sister worked the difference was an attitude; an attitude expressed in words, words that make a world of difference.
This passage came from Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839-1865. The Library of America. 1990. Pages 94-95.