I’m going to attempt to do the unlikely. I’m going to wade into the murky waters of speaking about an American political holiday without inciting political debate or inflammatory stances. I first want to say that I am glad to live in the Democratic Republic that is the United States. I am proud to stand alongside a nation that is filled with honest, compassionate, hard-working, self-sacrificing, clever, and passionate people. I am equally glad that we have a political structure that, at its best, allows us to choose our leaders by peaceful and fair voting practices.
None of us agree with anyone all the time; and there are plenty of people with whom we disagree nearly all of the time. But I think it is appropriate and good that Americans (and frankly anyone under some form of leadership) take time today to remember, research, and reflect upon some of those who have stood before us as a united people and, by words and deeds, led us forward.
When you consider aspects of great leadership, what do you think of? Do you value loyalty… honesty… tact… strength… civility… logic? When you consider your favorite leaders, what makes them so follow-able?
One thing that stands out to me as a particularly valuable virtue is the practice of keeping wise council. It seems that the limitations of humanity point to the necessity for us to look to the help of others for our success. This is highlighted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln which incidentally inspired Spielberg’s film, Lincoln. As made evident by the title, and what I found both atypical and inspiring, is the way in which President Lincoln assembled a group of men with different and, in some cases, conflicting ambitions to be his cabinet. The team of past competitors and separately ambitious politicians was comprised of Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General, Edward Bates, Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
Kearns Goodwin does the excellent work of concentrating on each man’s political and social biography, allowing us to fully understand the context and complexities of these unlikely partnerships. It is likely that Lincoln both understood the value of Sun Tzu’s philosophy of keeping enemies closest and having dissenting voices to reason against; and his strategy ultimately couldn’t have been more successful.
Team of Rivals illustrates for us the practical steps of building a great team, the uncomfortable tension that is inherent in such a team, and the overwhelming benefit of being a leader willing to rise to the challenge of passionate dissent in order to craft a unified and powerful path towards a worthwhile goal. When considering the makings of great leadership, perhaps it is not those who blindly charge ahead hoping others are following, nor those who avoid any type of self-realized advocacy, but rather those who can operate under the tension of strong convictions and cooperative progress; those who, as often as humanly possible, avoid the impasse of their own vision and the visions of others, which most inspire us to follow them.
We’ve had a number of great leaders to stand at the helm of our nation, and for that I am grateful.
Happy Presidents’ Day from TextbookRush!