Management Classes from Nice Previous Presidents
What can great former US presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy teach us about leadership? Today’s leaders can learn much from studying the wisdom and “leadership” of some of our most admirable past presidents.
George Washington: Ethical Entrepreneur
There is no better place to start than to start with the man who could have been the most popular president of all time during his lifetime.
George Washington was more than just an inspiring battlefield commander. His leadership, vision and courage united a war-torn country and set the United States on the path to greatness. Washington was an effective, inspiring, and visionary leader whose historical contributions to the nation were rooted in his character. He remained steadfastly honest and ethical during difficult times, making him a role model for leaders everywhere. And since his time, not a single president has admitted to having felled a cherry tree.
Washington was also an enterprising businessman and an innovative farmer. For example, he was America’s leading promoter of the breeding and use of mules, the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, making him the agricultural Steve Jobs of his day. Bosses who want to nurture and develop new ideas while maintaining a uniform code of ethics should take a long look at how George Washington treated himself.
Abraham Lincoln: Inclusive Presenter
He’s got the cent in his pocket. It’s on the fiver in your wallet. Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be the greatest President in United States history, our greatest leader in the nation’s most troubled times. Talk about leadership.
In her book Team of Rivals, historian Doris Kearns sheds light on Goodwin Lincoln’s brilliant leadership as he rose from obscurity to presidency and triumphed over three gifted rivals of greater national repute. When Lincoln emerged victorious, his more accomplished competitors were dismayed and angry. Surprisingly, Lincoln invited all three to join his cabinet in prominent roles. Goodwin reveals that Lincoln’s success was based on a character forged through experiences that raised him above his more privileged rivals. He had an extraordinary ability to take the place of other men, to see what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires. It was this capacity for empathy that enabled Lincoln, as President, to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and use their talents to work to preserve the Union and win the war.
Although the fact that there were strong personalities in his cabinet caused Lincoln considerable difficulty in admitting rivals to prominent positions and taking their advice into account, Lincoln ultimately won their respect and overcame the greatest obstacles any American president would ever face. Great leaders in the shape of Lincoln are open to intelligent prospects and good ideas – whatever the source – and are confident enough to reach out to their rivals.
FDR: Political optimist
The next major challenge for the nation was the severe economic downturn of the Great Depression, followed by World War II. It took a man with exceptional political skills to navigate these treacherous waters.
In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said that “the only thing we must fear is fear itself,” which inspired a nation ravaged by the Great Depression. But he also spoke about leadership and said: “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of openness and strength has found the understanding and support of the people themselves, who are essential for victory. I am convinced that you will once again support the leadership in these critical days. “
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Roosevelt was known for his consummate political ability – his ability to handle government bureaucracy, navigate party politics and special interests, and yet respond to people’s needs. In his Fireside Chats, which aired on national radio, Roosevelt used his communication skills to inspire Americans through the Depression and World War II. During those dark days, Roosevelt remained steadfast. And above all, Roosevelt had great timing. He understood when to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to keep it in reserve.
To survive the government labyrinth or to work in the corporate system, one has to be a master of politics. No factor was more important to Roosevelt’s success than his confidence in himself and his unwavering belief in the American people. In addition, he had a remarkable ability to transmit his joyous power to others, making them believe that if they pulled themselves together, everything would be fine. Bosses who can inspire with their own indomitable spirit and the ability to bring different groups together on the same team could be compared to FDR.
JFK: Charismatic visionary
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy believed that the most important leadership skill is to understand the people you are to lead: “Most important and most difficult to consciously pursue is understanding the people you are about to lead. You, and sometimes you, will be the spokesman for the great and often silent majority. And the final measure of your administration will depend largely on how well you respond to their inner hopes and lead them to new horizons of ambition and achievement. “
This is perhaps the most elusive ability a president can have: he has to go through very conflicting opinions at times about what should be done to improve the country. The Presidency of the United States of America is a multifaceted and complex enterprise that needs a president who not only has a vision, but is able to stay strong in an often dangerous crossfire of competing agendas and policies. Managers who promote new ideas and inspire their employees to look into the future do so in the “JFK style”.
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