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Archive for the tag “Certain Trumpets”

Leadership: Challenging Authority


This is a paper I wrote in college; it goes through the 16 leaders in Garry Wills’ book Certain Trumpets, and how they challenged authority or the status quo.

Challenging the status quo is often part of a leader’s job. The writers in Traditional Classics on Leadership reflect on when challenges to authority should be permissible and what those challenges should look like. The leaders in Certain Trumpets demonstrate how successful this can be when done right.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had clear ideas of what he wanted to accomplish and he sometimes “exasperated” those around him on his quest to achieve them (33). However, his unorthodox way of “[drawing] in others around him” resulted in effective, dynamic plans that worked (29).

Harriet Tubman challenged authority in a very obvious way—she actually went out and broke the law by leading slaves to freedom. But she was right in what she did because she was a legitimate leader in pursuit of moral ends and she acted justly, defying unjust leaders and tyrants.

Reform is generally opposed at first and takes a while to be implemented. That did not stop Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most powerful advocates for the fixing of problems in America. She used tact when needed but her commitment to what she saw as necessary reform did not waver.

Diplomatic leader Andrew Young may not have been in the forefront of the civil rights movement, but his behind-the-scenes work made sure everything else ran smoothly. He was just as much a part of the fight for black equality as Martin Luther King, Jr.

If there was anyone who surprised the traditionalists, it was decisive and insightful Napoleon. His dynamic, genius way of fighting won him victories against armies much larger and stronger than his.

David was destined to replace Saul but that king fought hard to keep his position. Described by Wills as a “free spirit” who headed a “rebel band,” David possessed a warrior spirit and his daring attacks solidified his position as the new king of Israel (107).

Businessman Ross Perot used efficient ways to raise sales. His ideas on how to better business were ingenious and extremely profitable. His active management styles were somewhat abnormal, but they made for success.

Being a traditional leader, he was expected to follow Catholic customs closely, but Pope John XXIII still found ways to focus on what he felt was important. Though it made some in the church squirm, “Pope John knew that the church must always be in a process of renewal…to get back to its original inspiration” (143).

General of the Continental Army that challenged the British Empire and won America its independence, George Washington was a determined leader willing to give his all in the fight for freedom. Neither clashes with the British army nor clashes within the new American government deterred him.

Socrates was not one to shy away from confrontations. He would engage anyone who cared to talk with him on philosophical subjects. Both the Wills and Wren texts contain examples of talks he had with those of differing opinions. But he was not afraid to challenge and engage.

Due to a previous devastating sickness and her association with an influential friend, Mary Baker Eddy was not afraid to go out on a limb and start her own denomination, the Christian Scientists. She pushed through opposition to become a part of religious history.

Carl Stotz did not necessarily challenge authority, but he did confront the notion that organized baseball was only for grown-ups. He did something unconventional, he did it with his heart, and he was passionate about sticking to the original vision.

Dedicated dancer Martha Graham’s unconventional inspirations and styles resulted in the revolution of dance. Other experts were skeptical, but she ended up having quite a lasting influence in that area of the arts.

The civil rights moment would not have been the same without Martin Luther King, Jr. He directly confronted the injustices of 1960s southern America, whatever the consequences. From energetic speechmaking to direct challenges, he was unafraid to challenge the unjust authority.

Opportunistic Cesare Borgia shocked many with his “effrontery” and brutal tactics; however, it could not be denied that he got the job done (232). Flexible, a go-getter, and just plain lucky, his career was short but brilliant.

Dorothea Day was driven by a desire to help the helpless. The rough experiences she had in her youth gave her a real understanding of the conditions of the poor and she was unconventional in her desires to help them.

Some of these leaders challenged authority; some challenged the status quo or established beliefs or attitudes. They all had a goal and were able to lead followers in pursuit of it. Though not every leader has to challenge authority, it is often a part of the responsibility and should be prepared for.

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Leadership: Lessons from King David


​King David was one of the greatest leaders of the ancient days. Even today, he is remembered and respected as such. Garry Wills’ text, Certain Trumpets, categorizes him as a “Charismatic Leader.” But how was David so successful? There are some important
lessons we can learn from David’s life and leadership if we consider several things that made him effective.

​To get to power, David needed outside help. Israel was a Theocracy in David’s time. The God of Israel was awed and revered. That was why David was accepted so readily. God chose him; therefore he was the right man. When their authority comes from outside, leaders do not have to do much to build themselves up. But David actively cultivated a relationship with the Lord. “And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the LORD was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14). He was a “man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22). Relationships need to be built and developed. No one is an island. We all need help from time to time. Sometimes, superiors provide much needed help, as God did for David.

​Wills rightly declares in Certain Trumpets, “the leader most needs followers” (13). David did not lack those. He “was accepted in the sight of all the people” (1 Samuel 18:5). They were drawn to David. His bravery was astounding and his character winning. Leaders should understand and get to know their followers. King Saul, David’s predecessor, was not a leader who was well liked by the people. “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and [David] became a captain over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). These men felt they could trust David more than they could their own current sovereign, Saul. Building rapport and relationships is the best way to ensure satisfaction and loyalty.

​For a leader, dealing with personal mistakes rightly is critical. Though David was one through whom God worked mightily, he was human as well. One notable example of his fallibility is the incident with Bathsheba. She was the wife of one of David’s generals, but that didn’t stop David from taking her to be his wife, killing her husband in the process. For a time, the incident went undiscovered but, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was convicted. He immediately and sincerely repented. Other times, David acted out of selfishness but, when God spoke to him or sent someone to speak to him, David realized his wrong, did not make excuses, and took the consequences. Leaders aren’t perfect; sometimes they’ll fail. But when they do, they must always be ready to own up, apologize and make amends. It shows that they are not ones to just shift blame, but will take responsibility.

​This is not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but these are some of the most important qualities in a leader. Cultivating relationships with authority, winning followers, and dealing honorably with failure—these are things which David exemplified and which today’s leaders would do well to learn.

Leadership: Certain Trumpets


Garry Wills’ book on leadership, Certain Trumpets, provides stories of famous leaders through history. This post will deal with some of those leaders— what helped them succeed and, in some cases, what made them fail.

​President Franklin D. Roosevelt empathized with people during the Great Depression because he himself was a victim of polio. He learned to overcome that and he was able to effectively encourage Americans that they too would be able to pull through their troubles, and they did.

​The reason for Harriet Tubman’s success in saving slaves during the Civil War can be attributed to an injury that she suffered at the hands of a slave owner and which left her with brain damage. Says Willis, “She had already died once; she had nothing to lose” in her focused quests to bring slaves to freedom (41).

​Andrew Young was not the most well known civil rights leader. However, he possessed a calmness and advocated an openness that diffused potentially explosive situations. He was often able to find middle ground between whites and blacks, rich and poor, and America and the third world.

​Napoleon is considered one of the finest military leaders ever. His military leadership was superb, but when he took the kingship, it was clear that was not where his talents lay. Wills shows that he was a military man, first and foremost; he was not able to adapt to political leadership (97).

​At the time of King David, Israel was a Theocracy. David was ordained by God and therefore accepted and revered by his men. Dashing, heroic, smart, popular, “literally the favored of God” as Wills calls him, he gained quite a following (108). David’s rule was so glorious his son Solomon’s “bureaucratic skills” fell far short of his father’s legacy and Israel was split in two (111).

​Businessman Ross Perot understood the importance of good salesmanship. Certain Trumpets shows how he acted with purpose, “shrewdness and daring” (127). From actively training and encouraging good salespeople, to “piggybacking” on things he’d learned in order to make great what was mediocre, he was enthusiastic about what he did and that contributed to his success in sales (126).

​Pope John XXIII had to follow a set of traditions, but he was able to act for the best as he saw it. Though this angered some in the Catholic Church, it won the people over to him. Certain Trumpets tells us a popular title for him was “Good Pope John” (143).

George Washington shaped history by helping to bring forth the United States of America. He was highly influential and could have used his vast power for selfish ends, but his “virtue” and consideration of the nation before himself enabled the successful development of America into a nation for the good of all (155).

Socrates learned how to juggle thinking and theorizing, with interacting with people. He did not shy away and become a hermit, but actively pursued penetrating conversations, inviting others to join him in his quests for knowledge, and that was what allowed his ideas to become so popular in his time.

Carl Stotz founded Little League baseball. Though developing a junior version of the game, setting up and outfitting teams, and dealing with the bureaucracy that followed was not easy, he did it and mobilized parents and volunteers to help. Thanks to his dedication, many young boys have the chance to take part in the great American tradition that is baseball.

Creating and linking images of black equality to the “familiar,” “old ties and commitments” of American standards like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the flag, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a powerful inspiration for striving together in pursuit of “liberty and justice for all” (222).

Not all good leaders are good people, but even from ruthless and conniving Cesare Borgia lessons can be learned. He had bravado and daring, ready to engage Lady Luck, “cope with the unexpected” and “face the unforeseen” (242). But when all else failed, Borgia could fall back on the loyal followers he had carefully developed.

Dorothy Day was firmly grounded in her Catholic faith—it inspired her to an outpouring of help to the poor and needy. And because she wisely “rarely took a confrontational stance with the church,” she was free to challenge injustice in society (259).

So, through the examples of the leaders in Certain Trumpets, it’s clear that, depending on personal idiosyncrasies and motivations, styles of leadership do vary. Compassion, focus, adaptability, discernment—these are some of the many qualities great leaders must possess or develop, if they are to lead well. The common thread running through their life stories is the consideration of something outside themselves. Whether that something was devotion to religion or sensitivity to followers, the lesson to be learned is that selfishness gets one nowhere. The memorable leaders have a great motivator and a great vision, which makes them effective.

Leadership: The Perceptive Leader


Without question, styles of leadership are different in different times and contexts.

Compare Harriet Tubman with Andrew Young, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. They both wanted to help their people, the African-Americans. But they did so in very different ways, Tubman going the radical route and Young working diplomatically. Harriet Tubman’s focused, tight leadership during the Civil War was necessary because of the time of war in which she lived; she was willing to risk it all by going all out to help slaves escape. The goal of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young was to win equality for their people in a different way—calmly and deliberately. Young, a diplomat, had to go slower and feel things out because of the turbulent times of the Civil Rights movement in which he was involved. Similar goals, different times, different methods.

Due to the Theocratic society that Israel was, charismatic King David, popular because he was chosen and blessed by God, was extremely influential. Because of what modern business is, with workers rights, unions and trade laws, a modern businessman have to use a different style of leadership than a 19th century factory owner would have used. According to Garry Wills’ book Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership, “leadership must differ from situation to situation.” A leader that understands the times and acts accordingly is most effective.

However, some things stay the same for leaders throughout the ages. Arguably the most essential thing for all leaders, no matter when they live, is that they have to care for and understand their followers. Garry Wills accurately states in Certain Trumpets, “The leader most needs followers.” During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt understood the need for encouragement in America and worked to boost morale as well as the economy. Harriet Tubman was so concerned with the safety of her operation and “passengers” that on her trips she would rather kill a slave than let him go back, because of the risk of betrayal. Business owners will not be successful unless they take into consideration the needs and wants of their employees. Considering the followers is one thing that must be done by ALL leaders.

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