Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Notes: Lee: A Life of Virtue (5/5)



Robert E. Lee is one of the most famous American historical figures, especially in the South.  Schools and roads throughout the South today still carry his name, and mythical stories abound about his greatness in war and the strength of his personal character.  John Perry's new biography of Lee in the Thomas Nelson series on The Generals is a short summary of the life of General Lee - one that moves quickly through his remarkable life and his remarkable military service.  General Lee's servant leadership and strong personal Christian faith fill every page of Perry's book.  In addition, this biography brought two features of Lee's life to my attention that have stayed with me long after reading the book.

First, General Lee was a genuinely humble person.  Though he was one of the most famous men in America at the end of his life, he was remembered by all those close to him for his remarkable humility.  As I was struck by this same character quality in the last Billy Graham biography that I read, I was struck by Lee's genuine respect, deference, and graciousness toward others. Jim Collins rights about Level 5 leaders in his book Good to Great, specifically mentioning how the greatest corporate leaders of the 20th century have not been those who are charismatic, flashy personalities, but those who are great servant leaders, well-known for their genuine humility and lack of self-absorption.  This goes against our normal understanding of dynamic leadership, but once again, Robert E. Lee's life story affirms that the greatest leaders of men are actually the most humble (sounds like Jesus' words, doesn't it?).

Second, General Lee experienced his most distinguished service late in his life.  As I have read Civil War histories in the past, I guess I didn't realize that General Lee had served so long as a engineering officer in the US Army before he found his success as a battle commander.  Lee served well, but without distinction, for 40 years in the military before he was called upon to lead the Virginia Army under the Confederate Flag.  Perry does a great job of showing that Lee's faithful service and perseverance through grueling assignments away from his family set the stage for his amazing leadership in the Civil War.  As someone who has grown up in the generation that thinks you have to do everything by the time you are 35 if you are going to do something significant with your life, Lee's story was a great reminder that faithful service over a whole life is makes you ready for opportunities to lead.  God sets the boundaries of a man's life, regardless what modern leaders declare.

Overall, this was a great book about a great man, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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