Leadership Lessons from US
by Stew Bolno
During January, we will
witness the quadrennial inauguration of the President of the United
States. History tells us that the ideas, perspectives, and decisions of
each President make a difference. Whether or not you agree with their
policies and political beliefs, their leadership skills and styles have
helped every one of them to achieve success.
Effective leadership is not only essential for leading a country, but
also is critical to leading an organization, a department, a team, or a
project. Consider what we can learn from some our most recent
Effective leaders act from a core set of values. George W. Bush is
steeped in his morality and religious values. They have an impact on how
he views the world. Whether a person is in agreement or disagreement
with his decisions, there is little doubt about where he stands on any
particular issue. The clarity of his values helps to compensate for what
some believe to be poor public speaking skills.
Question: How certain are you that your associates have a clear
understanding on your core values as a leader?
Effective leaders know how to "connect with people." Bill Clinton had a
unique sensitivity to the emotions of others. This enabled him to
establish great loyalty. Since he did not govern in a pure ideological
manner, this skill enabled him to keep supporters on his side, even when
he was signing bills for which they strongly disagreed. There is little
doubt that his true believers would have created strident opposition if
the same bills were initiated, supported, and signed by other
Question: What have you done to better understand the
motivations of others in order to create a sense of loyalty within your
sphere of influence?
Effective leaders know how to gain trust from others. George H.W. Bush
(41) worked tirelessly as a war President in removing Iraq from Kuwait.
President Bush did not communicate with great skill on television.
However, his history of personal integrity enabled him to accomplish his
goal of forming a strong coalition through his diplomats as well as his
own one-on-one conversations with other world leaders.
Question: How would others respond if they were asked to comment
on your reliability and integrity?
Effective leaders convey a clear and inspiring vision. At the beginning
of his Presidency, Ronald Reagan described his vision for America as, "A
shining city on a hill." This picture framed a distinct difference
between America and Russia in the "cold war" battles. His words
increased levels of confidence and optimism during a difficult time in
American history. He was not called "The Great Communicator" for
Question: How interested and effective are you in inspiring
others in order to overcome obstacles during difficult times?
Effective leaders are persistent in the pursuit of goals. Jimmy Carter
demonstrated intensity and commitment in his efforts to bring peace to
the Middle East. He was able to encourage Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat
to strike a deal that laid the groundwork for peace, after a
decades-long period of animosity, between Israel and Egypt. This
successful agreement resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize for each of them.
Question: How successful are you in gaining commitment from
others in your effort to achieve pre-determined priorities?
Leadership requires the ability to adapt to changing situations. Gerry
Ford never desired or expected to be the President of the United States.
However, history is revealing that he did a commendable job in the short
time in which he was thrust into the position. Those who knew him well
always considered him a leader. We have learned that it was the
Democratic Leadership of the House who convinced President Nixon to
appoint him as Vice President. Prior to this selection he had been
elected, by other members of the Republican Congress, as Minority Leader
of the House of Representatives.
Question: How flexible are you in your ability to adapt to
unexpected circumstances? Can you give an example?
Leaders need to be willing to take risks. From the beginning of his
political career, Richard Nixon was known as a "hard liner" on
Communism. However, as President, he recognized an opportunity to change
the world by going against his history and nature, in the pursuit of a
higher purpose. Many political experts have stated that his open arms
efforts encouraged the Chinese leaders to adopt a greater world-view in
their attempts to "modernize" their culture and economic system.
Question: When was the last time you did something
"unpredictable" in order to take yourself out of your comfort zone so as
to achieve a grand and meaningful goal?
Leaders recognize that sometimes a great personal strength can be
overused. Lyndon Johnson was a man who was ambitious, highly confident,
and strong-willed. This helped him attain power as Majority Leader of
the Senate, Vice President, and President. However, during the Viet Nam
War, these very characteristics worked against him as he chose to
actively direct Generals even though he had no military experience. This
led to uncertainty, confusion, and added unnecessary complexity to an,
already, difficult situation.
Question: What personal strengths do you possess that might
become liabilities when used inappropriately or with others?
Effective leaders have a sense of self as well as a sense of humor
Although John F. Kennedy was President for less than three years, he was
beloved by the American public. He connected with the citizens in ways
that touched the heart as well as the mind. His self-deprecating humor
and obvious self-esteem, earned him a loyal following that has continued
decades after his death.
Question: How do you demonstrate your "lighter" side to others?
While each President's personality style may differ, we can learn
something from each of them. During this inaugural time, take a moment
to consider what you learn from them and how will this change what you
do in managing your own behaviors and leading others.
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