From the Pages of History

Stories, Pictures, Quotes & Trivia (and more) that tell the story of the world.

Archive for the tag “leadership”

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.

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.

Leadership: Right to Rule—Legitimate Authority

I recently finished up a Thomas Edison State College course on Leaders in History. So I though I’d share some of what I learned in the course. Several upcoming posts will be on this topic 🙂

Legitimate authority is the concept of a leader having or attaining a “right” to be in charge. This is addressed in the book Traditional Classics on Leadership, by Wren, Hicks, and Price, which gathers writings from famous and infamous people throughout history on the many facets of and issues relating to leadership.

One leader who exemplified the ideas of legitimate authority was Harriet Tubman. Sure, she could be tough on the people she led; she ran a tight ship because any mistakes could put many people in jeopardy. But the slaves who joined to Harriet’s ranks chose to be there because of the advantages she had as a knowledgable, connected member of the Underground Railroad. Hobbes and Locke (Wren, Hicks & Price) speak of people joining to a leader in order to have an easier, safer time. Though something may be doable on one’s own, it is often desirable to join to a leader.

Although not a traditionally elected leader, Tubman nevertheless fulfilled the requirements Calvin stated, of being a terror to the evil and delivering the poor, oppressed and needy (Wren, Hicks & Price, p. 141). Thus, she had a right to be leading as her goals were ones to which all legitimate leaders should aspire.

However, there were also leaders who were quite popular in their time, but who we know from history as oppressive and tyrannical. How did they gather the followers that they did?

Jim Jones was “charismatic and disturbed,” as says. He started out with noble aims like desegregation and civil rights, but he let his personality and wants overcome those and started to selfishly force people into the way he wanted. By then he had become too powerful for his followers to refuse. The following from says it well:

“Jim Jones attracted a large following to his Peoples Temple through sermons on tolerance, social responsibility and community. As the church grew, however, the sermons on equality and tolerance were belied by his own increasing demands for personal loyalty and obedience. The extent of his authority meant that his eventual breakdown transformed a personal tragedy into one of the largest mass deaths in American history.”

People joined Hitler because he was inspiring, making them feel patriotic and proud of their country. But when he started committing atrocities they refused to see or accept that and turned a blind eye, or continued to perform what they considered their duty, as seen in the Nuremberg trials. It seems that when people started to want to leave, the tyrannical leaders had grown so strong that it was very difficult to do so.

Stories like these demonstrate the importance of followers needing to be careful of who and what they join. People like to join to good causes or to ones that make them feel good. But crafty leaders can lie to gain a following. However, eventually their true colors will show and they will be revealed as tyrants and destroyers.

Traditional Classics on Leadership by Wren, Hicks & Price (2004).

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