The Leadership of Optimus Prime

As a kid growing up, the Transformers where one of my favorite TV shows. I enjoyed the excitement in the cartoon, and more importantly the toys! If I were a gamer I would appreciate the Autobots- the good guys as part of the “Chaotic Good” realm. The autobots, from another planet left their world to find and hunt down the evil Decepticons. The ship carrying both robots crash landed on earth during the Age of the Dinos. When an earthquake millions of years later awoke the bots, their computer scanned the surrounding world and had the bots transform from robots into different types of vehicles. The autobots were composed mostly of ground vehicle robots, such as tanks, ambulances, trucks, cars, and 18 wheelers. The autobots were led by their “Prime” or Optimus Prime. His leadership style embodied what Greenleaf called Servant Leadership.

The name itself Optimus Prime, is latinesque- Optimus meaning “best” or “great” and prime meaning first. The leader was the first best, or leader. Originally, Optimus started as Orion Pax, which has Greek roots of “Heaven’s Light” and Peace. So really, Optimus is a peaceful leader who is the best. The character really lives up to the name in the show and the cartoon. The Autobots commander, while authoritative cares very deeply for his followers. He ensures he leads with their best interests in mind. He does not like violence, but will use it in pursuit of a peaceful goal.

Optimus also believes deeply in the opinions of his followers. Before embarking on events, projects, or decisions, he seeks their input. He asks from advice from his experienced team members, his newest team members, and from outsiders, including in the cartoon’s instance humans.  Often he asks the opinion of everyone before making a decision. This is critical in a servant leader for they seek input from all members of their team, weighing all of the facts before making a decision.

When a decision is to be made the leader takes full responsibility. Quite often, Optimus would tell his followers that he had to do something, or he was responsible for the decision. This burden weighed on the character’s shoulders heavily. Sometimes we would see the leader of the Autobots in contemplation away and alone from his team, and he wondered about his actions and their impacts. Optimus would lead from the front in the battles against the decepticons. He was first on the road, first to transform, and with his team in front.

Sacrifice also comes to mind when discussing Prime. In Transformers the Movie (1986) Optimus Prime makes the ultimate sacrifice and is killed. For a kid who was 9, this was a huge, emotional, and overwhelming moment! Prime sacrifices his own well-being in order to ensure the survival of his team, and his followers.  Over and over, Optimus in different reboots and series examples after he is brought back makes this choice.  Philosophy speaking it is very much like Utilitarism of John Stuart Mills. In this philosophy the greatest good for the greatest number should drive decision-making.

I would be remiss if I did not give props to another writer: for his examinations of O.P quotes from the rebooted live action shows.

The Prime or leader of the autobots gave some important life lessons in leadership to young kids watching that cartoon in the 1980s. I was one of them.

Robert Greenleaf: Servant Leadership. Paulist Press.


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