Leadership in Politics

Real world examples often provide concepts that apply in business. I worked in politics for many years and I think that there are lessons for educational and commercial leadership. Good political leaders try and seize temporary opportunities, their dramatic actions make for exciting highs when successful and dramatic lows when not.

Doris Kearns Goodwin gives a multitude of examples of leadership in politics in her book Leadership in Turbulent Times. She focuses on four major US presidents; Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), and Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). All had some very significant achievements. (Johnson, as she admits, also had a very obvious disaster in his escalation of the Vietnam war). While one can’t apply historical political actions too directly many of the general ideas Kearns Goodwin notes probably would stand one in good stead in modern politics or business.

Resilience is helpful — all had setbacks, although the gravity of these setbacks do seem to vary considerably. All overcame adversity to become president (of course). Even the privileged Roosevelts did not have a completely smooth ride. (They were both very unlucky with death and disease).

The sheer notoriety of the characters is worth noting. All were somewhat larger than life. Theodore Roosevelt and LBJ, especially, seemed determined to draw attention to themselves. As Kearns Goodwin says of LBJ (who she worked for): “Understanding the importance of flamboyantly seizing the attention of the electorate, Johnson crisscrossed the state in a helicopter, something no candidate had previously done” (Kearns Goodwin, 2018, page 192). There are clearly pragmatic reasons for this — Texas is big — but there is something attention grabbing about adopting a new approach. It helps a leader stick in people’s minds.

My favourite motto is from FDR. “‘It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something‘” (Kearns Goodwin, 2018, page 181). I wonder how much better our social situations would with a bit more experimentation and a greater willingness to fail. “But above all, try something

Read: Doris Kearns Goodwin (2018) Leadership In Turbulent Times, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY