Autocratic leaders find their vision fails

On April 29, my sister, Sylvia, and I drove to Lynchburg, Virginia to visit my brother, Jim Ed. While there, we were loading up supplies when I saw a sign directing us to Appomattox Court House. Since none of us had ever visited this historic site, we drove 30 miles to explore.

Appomattox Court House is the site where Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to the union Gen., Ulyssess S. Grant, on April 9, 1865. Three days later the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia turned in their flags and and stacked their rifles. Confederate troops continued to fight across the south until June 2 when Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was the last to surrender in Texas. Eventually the terms written by Confederate and union lieutenant colonels were accepted by all southern generals.

Gen. Lee expected to be put in jail after the surrender but he was treated as an equal with respect. Grant’s terms were very fair. He asked the Confederates to pledge not to take up arms against the United States again. Officers were allowed to take their side arms home. Those who owned a horse were allowed to take them. Printing presses were brought in and 30,000 paroles and passes to make travel home safe for the Confederate soldiers were printed and distributed.

While it would be easy to seek retribution for the bloodiest war in American History, Grant sought to bring the southern soldiers back into the fold. Unfortunately, nine days after the surrender, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and many of his plans to reunite the country were overturned by Congress.

Grant was a ruthless pursuer of Lee’s forces. Every time Lee tried to rest his men, Grant was on his tail, cutting railroad supply lines and forcing the fight. In the end Lee was poorly supplied and his men were hungry. Friedrich the Great said, “an army travels on its stomach.” That saying was certainly true in that little town in Virginia as the war wound down.

Grant was looking toward the future, not the past. Lee would have accepted much more stringent terms. He had few choices. Good leaders are seeking to create a success for all involved. If followers see that their ideas are part of the solution, they tend to support them. If the leader is not willing to invent successes for all parties involved, he/she will realize more strife. Remember, change is an individual decision that people adopt or fight. Magnanimous leaders tend to bring people together. Spiteful or autocratic leaders often find that their vision fails.

Finally, I would like to note that Appomattox Court House is an extremely well kept and informative park. A volunteer, Albert Carter, who is a retired school teacher, made a wonderful 45-minute presentation that brought the historic event to life. I can’t get enough of our nation’s parks.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.