While reading Grant, Ron Chernow’s best selling biography of Ulysses S. Grant, I came across Amy Cunningham’s blog The Leadership Triangle, in which she asks if leaders are made, born or neither.
She suggests that we need to change our paradigm about leaders who, she claims, emerge more by context than either natural ability or training.
Ulysses Grant is an example. Like Abraham Lincoln, who chose Grant as his senior general to lead the Union army to victory in the Civil War, he came from humble beginnings in frontier Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois. Neither Lincoln nor Grant had the formal education and elite influences of the first Presidents. Both had their share of young life failures.
Grant, whom Chernow describes as the most popular man in America following the Civil War, was not a natural born leader nor did he have the training required for senior military service or the political experience to become, until then, the youngest President, elected for two terms. Chernow believes he deserves more credit as a leader for uniting and preserving the Union while implementing the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction.
He seems to have had what Amy Cunningham describes as the Leadership Triangle of “competence, confidence, and commitment” to “ jump in with both feet because there is simply no other choice but to lead.”
Grant didn’t present himself as a war hero and never campaigned for the Presidency. But he took charge when the times required it.
Near the end of his life, with help from Mark Twain he wrote what is still considered to be one the best presidential memoirs: interestingly enough recounting his war years without mention of his Presidency.
I concluded some years ago that the best leadership lessons are learned from biographies. This is one of the best. Chernow helps us get acquainted with Grant as a devoted husband and father as well as a soldier and politician with all his flaws and disappointments.
While there is much to be said for talent and training, leadership happens when ordinary people are met with extraordinary circumstances.