Eye of the Storm Leadership
150 Ideas, Stories, Quotes, and Excercises On The
Art and Politics of Managing Human Conflicts
by Peter Adler, Ph.D.
THE BOOK & VIDEO > 4. The Paradoxical Role 

IV. The Paradoxical Role

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Starting Point / Closure at Appomattox

Political leadership is filled with contradictory imperatives: the need to fight for equity and a fair share for your people; the need to work together with others to get things done that can’t be done alone; the desire to do what is morally right; and the insistent call to be pragmatic and do that which is doable. Competitive, cooperative, moral, and practical impulses tug at each other. We need to follow all of them, simultaneously. Some do this with greatness.

It is April 9, 1865. Robert E. Lee, exhausted from years of fighting and in retreat, is determined to make one final attempt at escaping the ever-tightening noose of Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Lynchburg. In the early morning, the Confederates make their move. Initially they gain ground against Phil Sheridan’s cavalry but in short order they are surrounded on three sides. Lee and his army are weary, hungry, and checkmated.

Image:Grant from West Point to Appomattox.jpgPoster of Grant: “From West Point to Appomattox.� Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Commencing a few days before, however, Grant and Lee have been exchanging notes. Grant implores Lee to surrender and avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Lee writes back: “General: I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.�

Grant replies as follows: “The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms, they would hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, etc., U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General�

Who are these men speaking the courtesies and formalities of surrender? They are both military geniuses, fierce warriors who have battled back and forth across the North and South ruthlessly sacrificing thousands of soldiers to achieve their objectives. Grant, a poor student, a failure in business, and a heavy drinker, has many other virtues. He enjoys a reputation for fairness, is a good listener, keeps his own ego in check, and is perpetually and brutally self-honest. Lee, a towering figure to Northerners and Southerners alike, is a devout Christian, a deeply loyal citizen of Virginia, and a persistent if not stubborn man of known character. Both Lee and Grant should be deeply embittered. Instead, they are deeply respectful of each other, tired and quietly desirous of bringing matters of war to an honorable end.

General FRobert E. Lee. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Arranged through notes and messengers, they meet at the house of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House. Arriving first, Lee waits in a first floor sitting room. Grant arrives soon after and enters the room. They talk casually and then summon their staffs. The physical contrast between the two commanders is striking. Grant, forty-three years of age, is five feet eight inches with stooped shoulders. His hair and full beard are brown and without a trace of gray. Lee is six feet tall with silver-gray hair and a full beard. He sits ramrod straight in his chair.

They talk of when they served together in Mexico and then discuss terms of surrender. Lee asks that his men be given paroles for safe passage and allowed to keep their swords and horses. Grant understands the need to avoid the infliction of unnecessary humiliation. Grant writes out the full terms of surrender. Lee adds a word here and there. A little before 4 pm the two shake hands. Lee notes the presence of Ely S. Parker, engineer, lawyer, Grant’s secretary, and a Native American of the Seneca tribe. He says: “I am glad to see one real American here.�

The Grant-Lee meeting lasts two and one-half hours and ends the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. There is a pervasive sadness and inevitability seen and remembered by all in attendance. At the conclusion, Grant’s men start to cheer. Grant sternly silences them. “The war is over,� he says. “The rebels are our countrymen again.� Grant goes on to become President of the United States, takes a hard line against post-war violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, but excuses financial corruption among his senior officials. He is remembered with respect as a general and poorly as a president. Lee returns home to recover his ancestral farm near Arlington which had been seized by Union troops. He becomes president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), instills a code of honor that still exists today, builds the small school into a strong and respected institution, and remains there until his death on October 12, 1870.[i]


31 Footprints

“Love and conflict are binding.� Hawaiian Proverb

Footprint of Buddha with Dharmacakra and Triratna, 1st century, Gandhara.Buddhapada: Footprint of the Buddha. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Whatever you call it -- “guerilla bridge-building,� “storm chasing,� or “protean problem solving� -- the work you are doing descends from a long line of leaders who have experimented with ideas, models, and tools for constructively managing controversy. People have been doing this kind of thing for thousands of years and many have come to it the hard way. King Asoka became a more humane ruler after leading bloody wars for control of the Indian subcontinent. Count Maxmillian was directly responsible for ending the Thirty Years War for the Holy Roman Empire. Thomas Jefferson brokered an agreement between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Congressman James Madison establishing Washington, DC as the country’s capital. Oscar Schindler successfully haggled with the Nazis for the lives of Jews. You do yourself and others great honor by doing this job well. You don’t have to be Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, or Superman to do it, but you need to work hard at the task and be unrelenting.


32 The Job

“The go-between wears out a thousand sandals.� Japanese Proverb

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