Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Leadership and Abraham Lincoln
The opening keynote session was given by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian, author and journalist. Entitled simply "Leadership", her talk focussed on what traits make a good leader. What made this talk so different, and so entertaining compared to the many others I've been to on this topic, was that it was illustrated with stories and insights from the successes and failures of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Doris is an authority on Abraham Lincoln and it was his traits and stories she concentrated on. Speaking for almost an hour, with virtually no reference to notes, she kept an audience of 6000 enthralled. I saw virtually no-one leave - almost unheard of for an American audience.
So, what traits make a good leader? In her opinion, and illustrated throughout with stories and anecdotes they are:
The ability to motivate oneself in the face of adversity and never make permanent enemies.
Listen to different points of view - let your colleagues question your assumptions to create a climate of freedom to diagree. But only until a decision is made - then you all have to stick to it.
Learn on job and learn from mistakes. It is not our mistakes which hurt us but our response to them.
Share credit for success. Create a good feeling climate and congratulate success.
Shoulder the blame for your subordinates (don't like this word but it's the one she used!)
Be aware of your own weaknesses so that you can compensate and form a team with people who are complimentary to you
Control your emotions, especially anger.
Have the strength to adhere to your goals. Don’t respond to short term problems in a way that will compromise long term goals.
Know how to relax and replenish your energy - don't work too hard
Manage by walking around, and (my favourite!) a good leader likes gossip, and always knows what's going on.