It’s probably fair to say you are part of the majority of people who essentially ignore February’s national holiday. No, I’m not talking about Valentine’s Day, I’m talking about the day after. If it weren’t for the discounts at retail stores and the delays in mail delivery, it’s possible that President’s Day would pass by nearly unnoticed. However, the frequent election year updates and the impending holiday got me thinking about how we can stand to learn a lot from former presidents.
Presidents of the past are wonderful examples of leadership – both good and bad. A survey conducted in February 2015 asked members of the American Political Science Association to rank all U.S. presidents from best to worst. It’s no surprise that familiar names like Lincoln, Washington, F. Roosevelt, T. Roosevelt, and Jefferson rounded out the top five. In fact, the only one who doesn’t appear on Mount Rushmore was president at the time of its completion.
With their legacies and faces carved in stone, there is clearly something special about these five. They may have faced different obstacles in wildly different times, but each was able to make their mark.
If you sat down today to consider your legacy, would you stand out like these great men, or would you fall to the bottom of the list? Regardless of your answer, as a business owner, as an advisor, and as an individual, you can always strive to do better and to be better. This February, follow the example of history’s greatest presidents by learning from their leadership.
Learn from FDR – Be Present in the Here and Now
A Brief History Lesson: Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered office in the midst of the Great Depression, when a quarter of the country was unemployed. Failing to understand what he described as the “dark realities of the moment” would have left the United States in further economic turmoil. Similarly, failing to understand the current realities of your business could lead to disorder and disarray down the road.
Your Takeaway: A great leader has their feet firmly planted in the present. They use recent data and metrics to uncover what’s going right and perhaps more importantly, what’s going wrong. This information allows them to assess their progress in real time. But, they don’t stop there. A leader who has a handle on the here and now doesn’t remove themselves from the inner workings of their office. They strive to learn about how each person and each position affects the outcome of each day. Furthermore, this leader asks clients what their experience is like, taking their perception of today to mold the interactions of tomorrow.
Learn from Lincoln – Be a Visionary of the Future
A Brief History Lesson: Widely hailed as America’s most influential president, Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” His wise words weren’t just empty expressions, as he shaped a new America that rewrote the definition of freedom. Like Lincoln, you have the power to build a future for your business that excites and inspires yourself and others.
Your Takeaway: Leading and growing your business requires you to act as a visionary, setting long-term goals that let go of what’s easy and embrace what’s possible. Not only do you need to look forward with confidence, you also need to communicate these plans so your team is equally enthusiastic and engaged each step of the way. You may not be a psychic, but you can reflect on the past and connect in the present to predict a promising future.
Learn from Jefferson – Be Willing to Take Risks
A Brief History Lesson: Thomas Jefferson’s greatest achievement is often said to be the Louisiana Purchase. This decision, however, was one that required him to set aside personal reservations and hedge a political bet. In securing this deal, he effectively doubled the size of the country, proving where there is risk, there is often reward. It begs the question: What risks can you take to double the size of your business?
Your Takeaway: Fear and anxiety are the inhibitors of change. A leader who acknowledges these feelings, but has the confidence to place strategic bets, is also a leader who sees results. The bridge from the present to the future doesn’t just require hard work, it also requires taking chances. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to risks, but assembling the right team, implementing the right systems, and utilizing the right resources can reduce the gamble and increase the gain.
Learn from Washington – Be One with Your Team
A Brief History Lesson: Unanimously elected as the first president, George Washington certainly had his work cut out for him. He immediately sought to set the precedent for leading a democratic nation. As a result, Washington wisely established a cabinet of trusted advisors, a tradition that still exists today. He realized, as you probably do as well, that a strong leader needs a strong team.
Your Takeaway: Whether you have two or 20 on your staff, the best investment you can make is in creating a cohesive team that works in unison to accomplish goals and objectives. Your leadership should move beyond simply managing others to include the coaching necessary to overcome weaknesses and capitalize on strengths. When you make it a priority to foster future leaders, teamwork and coordination develop naturally and success is sure to follow.
Learn from Teddy – Be Aware of Your Evolving Role
A Brief History Lesson: Theodore Roosevelt became president at the turn of the 20th century following the assassination of William McKinley. Thrust into the spotlight, this young and energetic leader didn’t keep the status quo, instead he modernized the presidency, increasing the stature and influence of the office. Just as Teddy recognized his role must evolve, you too must recognize there is danger in standing still.
Your Takeaway: To be an effective leader, you must be prepared to be flexible. What you are doing today is not necessarily what your business will need tomorrow. It is vital that you are willing to be honest with yourself, discovering areas where it’s essential to grow, and aligning your workload to allow you to focus on these new disciplines. Modernizing your practice is a continual process. If you aren’t up for the task, your current reality will never become your future vision.