No matter where you’ve worked or what you’ve done for work you have probably heard some of the classic, often cheesy, quotes about leadership.
“You manage things; you lead people.” (Admiral Grace Murray Hopper)
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” (Warren Bennis)
“You’ve got to capture the hearts and minds” (Who knows)
While inspirational and helpful at a very high level, I have found that quotes like these are often used in teaching and training as a substitute for giving real, actionable, insights. Ed Catmull — co-founder of Pixar — wrote about this problem in his book “Creativity, Inc.” Feeling he was struggling as manager, Ed picked up several of the most popular books about management. He said “I read many such books as I set about trying to become a better, more effective, manager. Most, I found, trafficked in a kind of simplicity that seemed harmful and that offered false reassurance. These books were stocked with catchy phrases like ‘dare to fail’ or ‘follow people and people will follow you’ or ‘focus, focus, focus’. This last one was a particular favorite piece of non advice. When people hear it they nod their heads in agreement as if a great truth has been presented, not realizing that they’ve been diverted from addressing the far harder problem; deciding what it is that they should be focusing on! There’s nothing in this advice that gives you any idea how to figure out where the focus should be or how to apply your energy to it. It ends up being advice that doesn’t mean anything.” (Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.)
The purpose of this article and future articles on leadership is to give practical advice that comes from good research intertwined with a few of my own experiences. These will not be fluffy articles, but I will try to use stories as often as possible to help you retain the information you’re learning here. In my opinion, the best leadership advice enables you to go from a high level vision to real life application. High level concept quotes will be shared when they can be used to help guide us to greater understanding, not just to provide you with false reassurance.
On July 29, 1918, chance connected two of the most revered leaders of the 20th century. At Gray’s Inn in London, an assistant secretary in the Navy — Franklin D. Roosevelt — and the Minister of State for War and Air Minister — Winston Churchill — were at a small gathering together. As the event progressed Roosevelt gave a short speech to the group and eventually found himself in conversation with Churchill. Roosevelt remembered the experience long afterwards. Churchill, when questioned about the encounter years later, didn’t remember having met Roosevelt at the event.
We can’t go back in time and examine all the reasons why Roosevelt wasn’t memorable, but we can discuss why he didn’t suffer from this problem all his life. Roosevelt apparently became quite memorable as he went on to be elected president 4 times! The greatest number of any president in history. This was before the number of terms a president could serve was limited to two terms.