The Leadership and ethics of Robert E. Lee Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


In this essay an attempt is made to study the role of Robert Lee in the civil war. We will also try to discuss the possibility of application of leadership strategies in the present business context.


Most of the scholars who wrote about Robert Lee agree that he showed great character and he was an epitome of ethical leadership. Even before he joined the US army and played a significant role in the American civil war, he proved that he was great man. He firmly believed in the principles such as duty and loyalty towards his superiors and to the nation. His ethical values have inspired large number of people, both army men and other categories of people in American society including the businessmen. The ethical values professed by Robert Lee if applied properly in business, would lead to positive results. Lee belonged to Aristocratic family of America. Naturally his family background instilled in him sense of duty, loyalty and sincerity. These qualities were strengthened when he obtained military training.(2005) The scholars have studied the leadership qualities exhibited by Lee during the days when he obtained military training. He was able to develop these qualities due to the experience he obtained in the Mexican wars and the civil war of America.(Freeman, 1934)

 He demonstrated the quality of courage and determination in the Mexican war. After this war, he was promoted as the colonel, which provided him an opportunity to exhibit his leadership qualities. Not surprisingly, Lee has been referred to as the knight of America. He showed various noble values of the earlier noblemen of America. He compared secession to revolution, which would disturb the internal solidarity of America. He did not like the dissolution of the union of America. When civil war broke out, Lee thought that it was his duty to come to the rescue of his native state.  He provided his leadership and military strategic tactics to the Confederacy. Lee was able to quickly realize the nature of the military combat and he devised his military strategy and took immediate decisions.  He instilled sense of duty and devotion among his subordinate soldiers. The army of Lee obtained victory in some wars and also suffered reverses in other wars. The various military scholars have discussed the strategic leadership of Lee. In spite of his leadership qualities, Lee was not able to achieve victory against the military might of the union.

This failure of Lee was due to lack of production capability and supplies by the confederate states.  Nevertheless, he demonstrated his qualities of a great leader and he believed in one principle called duty. The civil war was a tragic and one of the bloodiest episodes in the American history and there were losses of life and property on both the sides. There was need for great leadership to overcome the war damages. During the war periods, Lee showed great sense of duty as he refused to accept any favor from individuals. In fact, he was offered an estate in the region of England, which Lee refused.

This fact indicates the sense of duty and loyalty exhibited by Lee.  In the case of south, Lee provided this leadership. He took great interest in the process of rebuilding of the southern regions. Lee decided to teach the southerners the method to become good Americans so that this would lead to greater unity of all the American states. These meticulous efforts were necessary to achieve the desired result of post war purposes. Lee tried to instill the leadership qualities among the students later when he became an academician. Lee believed that with duty and sincere devotion it is possible to achieve anything in the life. He also believed in the policy of forgive the offenders and he never reminded the offenders their crimes or ill doing to the society. Thus, Lee can be considered as a gentleman in the true sense. ( 2005)

Robert Lee possessed great qualities, which needed to be emulated

by the present generation of Americans. He showed his true spirits during the period of four hardest

years faced by the Americans. Robert Lee can be considered as the real American hero due to the great leadership qualities exhibited by him. These principles can be applied in the case of modern business. When these ethical values of duty and devotion are applied in the modern business context, it is possible to obtain success in the modern business. The businessman needs to possess qualities of the soldier or leader. These qualities are courage, devotion, duty and sincerity.   Although he faced financial and other problems in the family, he did not succumb to any temptations of money and other resources in return for favors. At present it is stated that single parents are responsible for the crimes committed by younger generation. However, Lee also faced similar problems in his life. However, he overcame these problems with his sincere devotion to his country. He believed in values and characteristics such as duty, honor, devotion, sincerity, consideration for others, courage, self-control, and so on.

He tried to develop these qualities among the subordinates. He gave greatest importance to the concept of duty, as he was aware of the fact that it was not possible to assess the real value of duty. He encouraged his subordinates and the people in the society to learn these qualities so that they would achieve success in their personal life. If the modern businessman obtains these qualities it is possible to achieve success in his business. In fact, we can compare business with the battlefield. Business requires the qualities of the soldier like courage, duty, devotion, self- control, consideration for others, proper strategies and so on. Lee also believed in the gentleman qualities, which obtained him great love and respect by his friends and subordinates. These are the qualities, which we expect in the leader in any segment. Even in the case of business, the business leader needs to possess these gentlemanly qualities. Thus, when civil war broke out, Lee decided to resign his position with the army of United States of America, and join his native state of Virginia.

He also refused to accept the commanding position offered to him by Lincoln. He took this decision due to his sense of duty and devotion towards his land. He believed that it was his duty to come to the rescue of his native state although he did not believe in the dissolution of the American union. By taking this decision Lee was able to set an example for others to emulate. These qualities of Lee were appreciated by most of the political and military leaders of America. These ethical values showed by Lee were rewarded during the post civil war period. In spite of the fact that Lee suffered losses, he did not give up his ethical values. It is this quality of courage and belief in duty and devotion which should be emulated by the modern business leaders. The leader should not be afraid of failures and reverses. As Lee showed, in the end it is possible to achieve success. Even after the end of the war the federal government decided to take revenge against Lee for fighting against the union army. He lost his earlier positions with the union army.

In spite of these problems faced by him, he did not lose courage and held on to his values, which he cherished throughout his life. He also applied for amnesty after the end of the war. This demonstrates that he was prepared to forgive and forget the earlier tragic incidents. Lee also expressed his personal beliefs, which are preserved in the various documents concerning Robert Lee. He believed that there is need to preserve the original constitution, which is needed for the maintenance of free government. He argued that constitution was required to counteract the dictatorship of the central government. This demonstrates that Lee contemplated regarding the future political institutions of America. This shows that he pondered regarding the future of the federal state of America. This can be considered as a great quality of Robert Lee. When we compare the ethical standards of Lee with the present ethical and moral standards we find that there is great difference between the two. In the modern context, we do not find the great ethical values showed by Robert Lee. Although, there were other great leaders of America, Lee proved that he was a great leader of the southern states. (Bridwell, 2003)

It is possible to draw lessons from the strategies of earlier military leaders of America. Robert Lee believed in taking huge risks in his military tactics. He did not support the idea of avoiding failures. Robert Lee criticized his subordinates for demonstrating too much caution. This strategy is similar to the strategies of the present day business companies such as Coca Cola. The modern companies have prospered due the application of these strategies used by Lee. From the civil war one can learn some lessons. For example, one needs to possess the ability to come back after setbacks. Tenacity was one value showed by Lee.

The strategies of Lee can be applied in the present business context by making few changes. For instance, Netscape producer did not directly attack Microsoft. By following this strategy, Netscape achieved success in its business plans. Netscape did not describe itself as Internet browser. AOL incorporated Netscape, which fetched great profits to the company.  By using the similar tactics, McGaw was able to sell his wireless company to AT&T for more than $11 billion. The modern businessman also needs to be decisive. He needs to take decisions at appropriate time.(Wheeler, 1999).


Robert Lee exhibited great ethical values and strategies. By using these values such as duty and loyalty, it is possible to achieve the desired result in the context of modern business.


Bridwell, John. (2003). “He Stood in the Shadow of Greatness”,   John McNeill SCV Camp #674, Moultrie, GA. (Accessed on 19-05-2005)

Freeman, Douglass Southall. (1934). R.F. Lee: A Biography, New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons.  

Wheeler, Tom. (1999). Leadership Lessons from the Civil War: Winning Strategies for Today’s Managers, New York: Doubleday.

(2005). (Accessed on 19-05-2005)

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