Leadership has been given multifarious definitions and this is not far-fetched as it is at the crux of how people live and are influenced. Leadership can simply be defined as the ability to direct, guide and impact others by our words, lifestyle or actions. A cursory look at the life of Robert E. Lee and his stance on leadership is definitely a good platform to further understand the life of General Lee and what leadership entails.
Firstly, it is pertinent to have an overview of the life of Robert E. Lee. He was born January 19, 1807
and was a Career Military Officer. During the American Civil War, he held the position of the Commanding Officer for the Confederate Army. He played key roles in the history of America and beyond the Civil war; he was also part of the peace process of unifying the nation. He has been revered by many for his stellar Military Career. A deeper look on his leadership style would be discussed briefly.
He had an exceptional leadership style and showed a lot of courage, doggedness and determination in all he did. His decision to lead the Confederate Army was completely a show of selflessness and a picture of a man who is given to uphold his beliefs. Beyond historical facts, he was able to create theories for leadership and its discourse because he had a firm grip on how power should be utilized and he also empowered his subordinates.
His Philosophy about Leadership
His primary concern was to serve and he was in no way ego driven. He always ensured that he laid out stringent and high standards of excellence for himself. He grew to be admired and loved by his subordinates due to this quality. He had a modest approach and believed in the power of Introspection as it was better to lead from within before leading others. He was faithful to the course he believed in and was a disciplined officer who followed through on orders given to him even when it went beyond the call of duty.
He was determined to maintain high standards and refused to promote officers who had not shown discipline in the way they went about their personal conduct. His philosophy was that whatever anyone modeled in his life automatically would be reflected in the lives of those he led. He was an asset to those around him and even his peers observed his exceptional lifestyle in the kind of leadership and courage that he exemplified.
His desire to offer quality service to those above him and beneath him is quite unique. During the Civil War, he always deferred to the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis for advice, guidance and counsel. This won him the trust of Davis and in turn, he was given a free hand to execute his plans and entrench his leadership style. General Lee believed that “you cannot be a true man until you learn to obey”. He was accountable and proved himself to those in leadership.
His propensity to submit to constituted authority is quite phenomenal. After the Civil war ended, he quickly pledged his allegiance to the United States of America and was key in working to unite the North and the South. This is unique in the sense that his military training never took away from him the need to let go of personal preferences if it interfered with greater good. He believed in mentoring and groomed young men via his capacity as the President of Washington College. In order for those who could not afford the training in the college, he gave up his personal stock to fund their education.
General Lee’s Leadership from the Christian Standpoint
The profound impact of the Episcopalian teachings played a huge role in defining his leadership style. Primarily, he was referred to as a “reluctant leader”, this is because he believed he was called to serve and not use power for personal aggrandizement. He learnt of the fallibility of man and this made him view people with a penchant that they could disappoint and act below standards due to their nature. However, the Christian tenets helped him to urge his subordinates to rise above the base nature of human behavior.
He believed in seeking guidance and light from the Supreme Being. It is reported that he once had to spend sometime in prayer in the midst of battle for God’s wisdom to prevail in his circumstance. His boldness, courage and desire to follow his firm convictions all have a link to his Christian beliefs. Moreso, in the light of the teachings of Christ (the leader of the Christian faith), he believed that humility and self discipline are key in order to rise above the limitations that abound in the carnal human nature.
Postulations derived from the leadership of an Icon
A deeper understanding of various leadership theories that have been postulated over the years could be best understood when viewed from both a historical and contemporary stand point. The twentieth century abounds with theories, however; three of these theories are paramount in this discourse. General Lee was a Transformational Leader and this theory is hinged on his ability to lead and drive change in the South, especially as the leader of the Confederate Army.
He was a Great Man and this puts him in good light, in the sense that this theory was proposed on the basis that the man with the authority holds the influence to effect change. Furthermore, another theory closely linked with him is the Contingency theory of Leadership. This states that situations arise and props people to take up causes and act as leaders in the best interest of others.
It is not possible to understand the future without properly having a good grasp of history. General Lee portrays for today’s leadership, the need to arise above self and deliver results to the led. He encapsulates a disciplined, focused and resourceful leader who played his part decisively in the annals of history. Although a brief overview of his take on leadership might not be succinct to capture the grandeur of his leadership; it definitely would spur leaders to strive for excellence for a long time to come.