Optimus Prime: How A Truck Taught Us How To Lead

Why Optimus Prime Is The Type Of Leader We Should All Aspire To Be.

What do you know or remember about the Transformers? Could it be the cartoon from the 80s? The Beast Wars from the 90s? Or maybe the bombastically bad but still fun to look at Michael Bay series? No matter where your journey into the world of the Transformers began, the one constant that has come from it has been the inclusion of an Optimus. Whether it is Prime or Primal, there has always been a calm and softspoken leader who puts his soldiers’ safety before his own. However, it is kind of funny that some of the best lessons in leadership and humanity have come from a Peterbilt.

From the first episode of the original series, we are sucked into a mechanical world where two warring robotic factions (Autobots and Decepticons) fight to survive on a dying homeworld. After escaping to space, their ships crash on prehistoric earth and are awakened in the modern-day. Using everyday vehicles to disguise themselves, these factions continue their war but now with the added variable of the human race. While there are doubts on both sides, the Autobots know that they can turn to their leader, Optimus Prime, for guidance. From his very first sentence, we as viewers not only hear his words but heed them because what he tells the Autobots can easily be translated to any everyday issues we may face.

But who is Optimus Prime? Who is the bot who would lead an army in a seemingly never-ending war? Well, depending on the iteration, that origin can change, but the one thing that has remained true to the character is that Optimus was never made for war; whether he was a scholar or a kid, leading an army was never on his to-do list. However, that is exactly why he has lasted as long as he has, and it is because of his almost always sudden thrust into leadership, we see him make the same decisions and mistakes we would make if put in the same position. Prime does feel fear, and he does have doubts but his courage and knowledge of what is at stake keep him from buckling under the pressure. To quote the man himself, “We Must Have Courage. We Can’t Ignore The Danger. We Must Conquer It.”

One of the biggest lessons we have to learn to be both a leader and our most honest selves is to have the courage to conquer our fear. Courage is the fuel that powers our true potential, and Optimus Prime has to deal with that more times than he can count. Do you think he would have ridden off to face Megatron in the first animated movie without fear and courage? I don’t think so. But with that being said, courage isn’t the answer to everything, and even leaders make mistakes.

While Prime may come across as perfect in almost every right, he does make mistakes. A lot of that is because no one is perfect, you may think you know what is right, but you can still falter even if it is. “Sometimes Even The Wisest Of Man Or Machine Can Make An Error.” While they may not be the best, many of these examples can be found in the more recent Transformers films. Fans may not count this Prime as a true Optimus, but there is no denying that he has faltered, and he has also learned from those mistakes and did his best to rectify them. While those movies aren’t perfect, I am sure that there are quite a few humans out there who haven’t owned up to their mistakes, unlike Optimus.

Since Prime’s origin has always seen him as less of a soldier and more of a scholar, it shows some of the most important natural laws of the world that Prime recognizes, but Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, cannot. Where he would rather enslave the human race as a workforce, Prime would retort with the simple fact that “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” a quote used in the first live action film. A simple fact, sure, but an important statement to make when the world can be such a cruel place to be in. With that statement alone, Prime shows he values the one thing that can sometimes be the hardest to achieve in war, life.

A lot of what brings power to the words of Optimus Prime is his voice. The voice of Peter Cullen. Hearing his voice as a child (and I hate to admit it, but he wasn’t the first voice I heard as Optimus Prime), I remember thinking about how powerful but quiet it was in comparison to Optimus Primal’s much more energetic pitch, which was in no way a bad thing! At that age, seeing him ride off to face Megatron to Stan Bush’s “The Touch”, I was struck by how cool and sure of himself he was (which in hindsight he probably wasn’t as sure as we would assume). However, his character was killed off early in the film, so my time with Cullen was cut short until 2007 when he returned to voice Prime in the films.

When learning more about him, I stumbled upon a video where Peter Cullen described how the voice of Optimus came to be. While I will not attempt to butcher a story so near and dear to his heart, it really resonated when he mentioned how his brother told him before the audition to be a real hero and to be “strong enough to be gentle;” which is really what the character is all about. It is also what being a leader is all about. Not who is the loudest or carries the bigger stick, like Megatron, but to know when it is time to reel it back and be a gentle and understanding soul.

So why should anyone aspire to be like Optimus Prime? Why is he an ideal to follow as a leader? Well, in short, he doesn’t see himself as a leader or someone above anyone else. He is in the trenches with his men and will put himself on the line to keep them safe. He isn’t perfect; he is flawed. He has doubts and fears like the rest of us, but he will never let those things bring him down. He will make mistakes along the way, but he will never let those mistakes define him. But the one defining aspect of Optimus Prime that makes him such a greater role model for life and leadership is that he is vulnerable. Everything he does and every choice he makes is in front of soldiers. They have seen him succeed and fail, angry or sad, caring and cold, and they know what he is about. His wisdom holds true because they have seen the lessons that inspired the phrases. It makes him inspirational. So as you go about your day from now on, be strong enough to be gentle, don’t hide your feelings from people who follow you, and never let mistakes define you. Who knows, you may find more to yourself than meets the eye!

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