How Past U.S. Presidents Leveraged Other Perspectives

The need for wise and effective leadership is as great as it’s ever been. 2020 has been a tumultuous year necessitating many quick, yet crucially important decisions. Our sense of normalcy has been turned upside down as fears for our health, safety, loved ones, businesses, and bank accounts continue to rise. And now we are heading towards another unknown—a presidential election.

At first, I thought releasing a book about leadership during this season wasn’t a good idea. But I quickly realized the opposite was true: leaders need to be focusing on the decisions they make and the influence they have now more than ever. And my latest book outlines seven perspectives every leader must see in order to improve their leadership effectiveness. In light of election season, I picked five of the perspectives and tied them to stories from past U.S. Presidents, along with a practical tip I believe can help every leader be more effective, especially during this challenging season.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) earned great influence when he chose to speak directly to the people of the United States through their radios. During the Great Depression, FDR saw the need for the public to be informed on what the government was doing—and, directly by him, their leader—not the press. He continued his broadcasts during World War II, updating the public on the progress of the war. Due to the President’s conversational manner of speech, the messages were unpretentiously termed “Fireside Chats”.

He understood the Current Reality of the nation, as ever-changing as it was during economic depression and world-wide war, and he made sure to communicate with the people looking to him to lead. He came to them, as best he could, his calm voice filling their parlors, sharing real-time updates, encouragement, and vision.

Leadership Tip for Today—
As a leader you need to be honest and transparent with current reality. It will gain trust with the people you lead and earn you influence. Even if the current reality seems dim, your people deserve the truth. Be honest with them, and they will be honest with you. Without their transparency, you will not have a clear picture of current reality.

John F. Kennedy (JFK) was keenly aware of the country’s current reality and the losing position of the United States in the space race against Russia. He cast a challenging and compelling Vision for the nation when announcing the U.S. would land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade. He acknowledged the expense and the difficulty, but rallied the nation together towards this long-term, seemingly impossible goal. He built a vision that united the country regardless of political affiliation, race, religion, or socio-economic position—every single person within the United States was invited to support this long-term vision, the race to be won.

Leaders must view their businesses beyond the lens of current reality into a future not yet realized, welcoming teammates to come along for the journey, and together build something special, new, and never before.

Leadership Tip for Today—
A vision should be so clear and compelling that it unites the entire team—regardless of role. Every member of the team must directly understand how their job connects to the vision so that engagement is high. Times of change and uncertainty like we are experiencing today shouldn’t cause you to shy away from your vision but rather lean into it even more, communicating a picture of a brighter tomorrow over and over again.

Thomas Jefferson took a risk when he sought to purchase land east of the Mississippi River in North America from France. The United States Constitution did not include any sort of provision for acquiring foreign territory. Jefferson and his team made a Strategic Bet when negotiating the deal with France—and it paid off. More than 800,000 acres was added to the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson led a fledgling nation to essentially double their territory.

This unprecedented and risky negotiation greatly expanded the territory of the United States. Growth was achieved, but not without high risk and financial cost—a strategically placed bet.

Leadership Tip for Today—
A strategic bet moves you from a defense posture to a position of offense, something all leaders need to be looking for right now despite our current reality. It will require investment and risk—but if it pays off, you will move forward into new opportunity. A strategic bet should be something you are unsure of, something with enough potential to open doors and move the organization ahead.

Abraham Lincoln is well-known for selecting a diverse cabinet and surrounding himself with a team of varied perspective—but it is not the only way in which he actionably valued the perspective of the Team. Lincoln did not simply sit in the White House casting vision to the generals leading the soldiers during the Civil War, he actively engaged in communication to learn the front-line perspective by utilizing the telegraph. There are reports that he even slept in the office of the telegraph to ensure he received the latest news from the team fighting the battle.

The perspective of teammates in all seats, at all levels is crucial for the decision-maker to have the most accurate and realistic picture of the situation—an influential leader knows to listen to their Team, especially those most vulnerable, on the front lines.

Leadership Tip for Today—
Walk the floor, visit the production room, call the customer service team—actively listen to your teammates, especially those doing the work. Or, during the pandemic, in this ongoing virtual reality, schedule Zoom meetings with the departments you oversee, and give everyone a chance to speak. Leaders should feel empowered to connect with people across the organization, not just their direct reports. It will improve your ability to make decisions and increase your influence organizationally.

General George Washington led the colonies during the Revolutionary War to victory. The independence allowed for a new form of authority, a new way of leadership. He recognized the need for counsel from others—the importance of hearing other perspectives. The foundation of the government was instituted under Washington’s leadership including the roles of the cabinet, the roles of the Supreme Court, and his role—the United States President. A Role of such magnitude needed to be clearly explained with checks and balances established to avoid reverting into the way of leadership the country had just fought against.

Leaders will experience the most energy in their roles when they can clearly articulate which tasks are theirs to own and which are theirs to delegate. The work may still be challenging, but if a leader is focused on the tasks that only they can do, they will experience lift and see wins across the organization.

Leadership Tip for Today—
A leader should be clear on how their role impacts the organization—and fiercely protect the time needed to accomplish the tasks that only they can do. Block your calendar, set your Skype to Do Not Disturb, let your team know you will be head’s down for a couple of hours to focus upon your commitments. Leaders should be approachable and available but must give themselves permission to set boundaries for the growth of the organization.

Whether you manage a small team, head up a company or lead the entire country, seeing your business from these perspectives will help you make better decisions and increase your influence—the two things necessary to be an effective leader.


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