In the midst of local and national elections, a compelling question rises to the surface: What do we want in a leader? Quality attributes of military leaders such as George Washington and Robert E. Lee seem fleeting in today’s world. We can learn a thing or two from the leadership style of Robert E. Lee, one of the most beloved generals in history.
Lee’s leadership approach encompassed empathy, compassion, respect for others, discernment and honesty.
Empathy and compassion were evident through his interactions with others. He desired to communicate with his commanders on a personal level and openly expressed concern, sympathy and acceptance of others. During a conversation with General James Longstreet, Lee offered support and comfort while discussing the loss of Longstreet’s four daughters a few months earlier.
This empathy translated into respect, as Lee was genuinely interested in and cared for others. He listened to the thoughts, ideas and suggestions of his commanders. He acknowledged and appreciated their input. Before ordering commands he gathered all available information, requested input from his commanders and chose the best course of action.
While he listened to the suggestions of others, he carefully considered his options and used discernment before making decisions. He stood firm on his faith and what he believed to be true. He knew how to listen and say no with respect.
He did not consider that which was morally or ethically wrong. “Never do a wrong thing to make a friend-or to keep one,” he commented.
Lee’s discernment resulted in many Confederate victories and the confidence of the men he led. Confederate soldiers believed in Lee’s leadership and desired to follow him, even when he admitted to a mistake. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee apologized to his troops for the defeat at Picket’s Charge. Lee told General Wilcox and returning soldiers, it’s “all my fault.” His men loved and respected him so much that they accepted the blame themselves and continued to revere him.
Lee was very clear on his opinion of power. "The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone; but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman,” he stated.
“The power which the strong have over the weak, the magistrate over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly; the forbearing and inoffensive use of all this power and authority, or the total abstinence from it, when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.
The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He can only forgive; he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which imparts sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled when he cannot help humbling others.”
Now this is the type of leader we should cast our votes on.