It has been said that leadership is not about the leader but about those he or she leads. Are all great leaders born with the innate ability to guide others on a path to success? Can anyone be a leader?
And, what would a school bus driver have in common with President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee — iconic leaders of the American Civil War? Quite a lot, as it turns out. All were and are leaders in their own right: Each has provided guidance of intrinsic worth to those with whom they interacted at different times and places.
The level of impact these people had (and in the case of school bus drivers, continue to have) might be miles apart in significance from a historical perspective, but their importance in making a difference individually is fairly equal.
Origins of historic leaders
President Lincoln is easily ranked among the top three great U.S. presidents. Through his leadership, he reunited the country and ensured that liberty remained the paramount ideal of America.
Coming from a humble background, he educated himself by reading copiously, and he became a practicing lawyer. His tenacity, humility, speaking skills and ability to unite people toward a common goal were superior. Although he lost several elections, he gained the presidency because of a common idea of liberty for all and the importance of preserving the Union.
General Grant, who was born the son of an Ohio tanner, garnered an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During his time at the academy, his behavior was less than stellar, riddled with several demerits for bad conduct. Nevertheless, he graduated in the middle of his class.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was working in his father’s leather store. Because of his experience in the Mexican-American War under General Zachary Taylor, he was appointed by the governor of Illinois to command an unruly regiment, which he quickly whipped into shape. His leadership and success in battle resulted in Lincoln appointing him general-in-chief. Grant’s courage and his “when in doubt, fight” creed led the Union Army to victory in many battles, and ultimately to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Unlike Lincoln and Grant, Lee was the son of a Revolutionary War hero, and he was from one of the most distinguished families in Virginia. He graduated second in his class at West Point, never receiving a demerit for unacceptable behavior.
Lee distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War so well that General Winfield Scott described him as “the best soldier I ever saw in the field.” Lee was destined to succeed.
Following Scott’s recommendation, Lincoln offered Lee command of Union field forces. Despite his more than 30 years of military service and success and his personal objection to slavery and succession, Lee declined the offer, stating that he could not take up arms against Virginia, his home state. Lee resigned his commission and later joined the staff of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
All three men hold the reputation of being calm under duress. Bus drivers, too, are noted for their ability to remain calm under varying situations.
On a daily basis, school bus drivers exhibit and portray many of the same core values held by Lincoln, Grant and Lee. They are dedicated, loyal, on time and ready to work every day. They are honest and they are content with who they are as people.
Grant and Lee cared about their officers and men, and they were highly respected and trusted. School bus drivers care about the kids who ride their buses and build strong relationships with the children, their parents and co-workers.
Lincoln was a collaborative leader who sought feedback from those around him. School bus drivers work together with others to build a cohesive team. Lincoln and Lee had a stature that portrayed a commanding presence. Drivers exhibit a similar presence when boarding a busload of children — it says, “This is my bus, and we are all going to treat it respectfully.”
Leadership at all levels
School bus drivers are important leaders at their level in an organization. Lincoln, Grant and Lee were important leaders at their respective levels as well. All were and are adept at recognizing the inner makeup of everyone, building upon their experiences to form a cohesive team of employees.
While Lee grew to prominence through his family tradition of leadership, Lincoln and Grant gained distinction due to their hard work and success. School bus drivers are equally successful in their chosen field of expertise. These people’s leadership has served the needs of others from different levels in society.
But leadership is not about the person’s position of employment, the company he or she works for or one’s station in life. It is about the characteristics of the individual, whether on the job or alone in the dark, helping others, and doing the right thing.
Anyone can be a leader. Are there exemplary leaders throughout your organization?