You have recommended to read leadership books. Many are written based on the reflections and experience of a single individual. What should you take form these books? What can you learn from activities of a single individual? What should you do or perhaps what shouldn’t you do?
I recently read two very different books but both biographies of world leaders.
The first book, called ‘The Emperor’, was written by Polish author Ryszard Kapuscinksi. The Emperor tells the story of Haile Selassie who became leader and Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. I used that biography to illustrate some of the behaviors that may have been associated with his ultimate downfall.
The second book I read, ‘The Hidden Hand Presidency’, was written by Fred Greenstein. The Hidden Hand tells the story of Ike Eisenhower who became President of the United States in 1953. The book is based on the reflections of a political scientist who focussed on the dynamics of the presidency. The author recognized that the presidencies of the late 60’s and 70’s had not been successful at ‘serving the nation’. To investigate what he described as effective leadership, he focussed on the era from the 1930s to 50s, when the government and presidency assumed a dominant role in domestic policies. His first foray was to examine the qualities of a president that that was largely regarded as a ‘non-president’, Ike Eisenhower. As a political scientist, he recognized that the role of president of the United States is required to be both a public figure and chief executive. Upon investigation he discovered that Eisenhower’s reputation came largely from his public presentation, and not his role of chief executive, where he presented an entirely different picture.
Eisenhower, to the public, appeared to be kindly and slightly bumbling. He approached situations and individuals with friendliness. This was his public role and it was critical in maintaining public support for his ambitious agenda.
In his governmental dealing, however, he presented an entirely different style and mode of action. In contrast to his public persona, he was highly analytic. Furthermore, his decisions were driven by a set of personal principles and strategic aims (see my posting on Leadership Style). Decisions were based largely on the long-term strategic goals of the U.S. Despite the Vietnam conflict, Eisenhower expressed core principles concerning avoidance of war and the critical role of the international community in maintaining peace. His domestic principles of conservatism guided senior leaders within administration. As for all politic situations, he never lost track of the need to maintain sufficient approval within the country. This consideration, however, did not affect what he wanted to achieve but when and how quickly he acted. Not only was he conscious of the political need to maintain public support, his approach to individuals was also based on his analysis of their political motives. By working to understand their motives, he was more effective in influencing individuals.
Eisenhower deliberately avoided personal and public disagreements with other political figures. He never criticized individuals publicly with the aim of maintaining good will. He saw little benefit in public disputes, recognizing that such public displays almost always irreparably ‘burnt bridges’. This lack of public confrontation drew some criticism in the McCarthy era, but bore no relationship to his actions behind the scenes where he did everything possible to minimize the impact of McCarthyism.
Eisenhower sought advice from everyone with an open, candid, considerate and honest approach. When confronted with discord, he made constant effort to achieve unanimity of conclusion based upon broad generalities. Having achieved general consensus founded on the underlying strategic aims of the country, he then worked towards the finer details (see my post on Running a Meeting). His style was one of constant optimism, with inexhaustible energy. People responded positively to his positive approach. He saw his job to convince not publicize his accomplishments. He delegated roles but was willing to accept his own errors and recognized that subordinates made honest errors.
Eisenhower constantly sought spontaneous mutual co-ordination based on ‘friendship’ and compatible working relationships. He chose leaders that complimented his areas of weakness. He relied on his cabinet to provide important feedback. However, cabinet did not vote and many of important decisions had been vetted before any meeting. Cabinet thought of themselves as part of a collective enterprise. He choose leaders with intellectual commitment but equally important, the ability to work in groups balancing ability with personality. Cabinet leaders needed to be focused on the national welfare rather than their personal success
An overarching theme and the genesis of the title is that leadership style is adapted to the situation with different styles needed in different contexts. His ‘hidden hand’ was everything he did outside of the public spotlight. Despite the general impression of a bungling leader, Eisenhower remained a highly popular president who successfully achieved a second term and a successful domestic agenda.
In the end, Eisenhower was largely successful. Whether this can be attributed to his leadership actions is unknown but I learned several things I should do.