I am reading two books right now and both of them have been talking about Ulysses S. Grant. I expected it in one, after all it is a book about the Civil War (The State of Jones), but it was a surprise in the other (a book that I am reading for small group called If You Want to Walk On Water You’ve Got To Get Out of the Boat).
Up until this point I have only known the basics about Grant: He was a general for the Union army in the Civil War and was the 18th President of the United States. But there was a lot I didn’t know. I think that it is so important for us to continually look back on history and learn from our forefathers. Both the good and the bad. Grant, unfortunately, offers us a lesson in being in the inappropriate leadership position.
Grant seemed like a good fit for President. He was a bulldog of a General in the Civil War. He claimed many of the big victories of the war including the successful siege of Vicksburg. He never gave up, even if it meant trying over and over again. The slaves, freedmen, and Union supporters of the South knew that Grant was on their side. After the end of the war, when the Unionists and freedmen of the South had so much hope of a new country, their dreams were shattered. The Confederate leaders took things back over under the guise of supporting the new Union, but really bringing back the old habits of the antebellum South. Even the new President, Andrew Johnson, was an extreme racist and considered the freed blacks as inferior along with the white yeoman farmers. While Johnson continued with Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation agenda, life in the South was worse than it had ever been.
And then the extreme republican and war hero, Grant, was on the ticket for the Presidential election. Hope was here at last! Until he entered the Presidency, with no political experience, and made all of the wrong decisions. The yeoman farmers, freedman, and Unionists of the South pleaded for help as the Klan and old Confederate leaders ripped the place to shreds. People were afraid to vote, they were starving to death, and the Klan terrorized the community. But Grant did nothing for fear of losing political stance. In fact, at one point he told the Unionist governor of the state of Mississippi (Ames) that if he sent troops into Mississippi to help, that he would lose the Republican vote of Ohio. So he did nothing. Remember Vicksburg? That city he so courageously and strongly overtook? Well, it landed right back in the hands of the people he worked so hard to defeat thanks to his lack of action, integrity, and ability as a political leader. But at least he was President. At least his picture was in the paper and he had his place of leadership.
Grant knew he was not the right man for the job. He didn’t understand the work and wasn’t the right leader. He was a great leader in the war, but not in politics. In fact, in his final State of the Union address he said:
It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training.
William McFeely, who wrote an autobiography on Grant, says of him:
His personal need was to retain the immense respect in which he was held everywhere in the North. He wanted to matter in a world he had been watching closely all his life. A little recognition- a little understanding that he did know what he was doing- was all he required. He needed to be taken into account.”
That is such a dangerous place to be. To be in a place of leadership, even though it’s the wrong place for you, is not a good thing. That’s why it’s so important to take a serious look at the position you are in and why you are there. A real honest look. And remember Grant. He was a great military leader, but not political leader. Just because you lead well in one area doesn’t mean you can take on any area of leadership. Arthur Miller says:
It is wrong, it is sin, to accept or remain in a position that you know is a mismatch for you. Perhaps that’s a form of sin you’ve never even considered- the sin of staying in the wrong job. But God did not place you on this earth to waste away your years in labor that does not employ his design or purpose for your life, no matter how much you may be getting paid for it.
I love that this concept came up, using the same person in history, in the two books that I happen to be reading at the same time. I love when God does stuff like that. If you do think you are in a position like this and need to self-evaluate, please take the time to do that. It is going to take a lot of humility and a whole lot of self-awareness, but it will be worth it.
In closing, I will leave you with some great questions that John Ortberg recommends asking yourself.
- What is your most painful limitation?
- What is the limitation that frightens you most to acknowledge and accept?
- Where do you most avoid seeing the deep truth about yourself?