Leading Blog


The Great Leadership Lessons Don’t Change

David McCullough
This month’s Harvard Business Review has a great interview with historian David McCullough. He makes the point that the great leadership lessons don’t change. This is easily forgotten because we are bombared with the misconception that leadership is changing while being sold the fads that go along with it. The situations we find ourselves in often change, but the principles of leadership and dealing with people don’t. He makes the following point:
The American historian Samuel Eliot Morison liked to say that history teaches us how to behave—that is, what to do and what not to do in a variety of situations. History is the human story. Jefferson made that point in the very first line of the Declaration of Independence: “When in the course of human events…” The accent should be on “human.”

History also shows how the demands of leadership change from one era to another, from one culture to another. The leaders of the past experienced their present differently from the way we experience ours. And remember, they had no more idea how things were going to turn out than we do in our time. Nothing was ever on a track, nothing preordained. The more you study the year 1776 and the course of the American Revolutionary War, the more you have to conclude that it’s a miracle things turned out as they did. Had the wind in New York City been coming from a different direction on August 29, 1776, Americans would probably be sipping tea and singing “God Save the Queen.”

Leadership, then, partly has to do with luck. And luck, chance, the hand of God—call it what you will—is a real force in human affairs; it’s part of life. Washington might have been killed; he might have gotten sick; he might have been captured; he might have given up. Besides being fortunate, he knew how to take advantage of a lucky moment, because he was blessed with very good judgment. Luck provided the opportunity, but Washington’s night escape across the East River—made possible by the direction of the wind—after an overwhelming defeat in the Battle of Brooklyn would never have succeeded had it not been for his leadership and the abilities of Colonel John Glover. Glover was a Massachusetts merchant and fisherman who, with his Marblehead Mariners, knew how to do the job.
He also says that we need to be developing leaders at all levels:
We need leaders and not just political leaders. We need leaders in every field, in every institution, in all kinds of situations. We need to be educating our young people to be leaders. And unfortunately, that’s fallen out of fashion.
The interview contains a lot of good material and is available for free on the Harvard Business web site.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:51 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Leadership



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