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Friday, November 13, 2009
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin is an account of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his political genius.
At the beginning of Lincoln’s first term, he appointed each of his former Republican rivals—those who had run against him for his party’s nomination—to cabinet posts. The narrative demonstrates his amazing ability to tap into a broad array of perspectives and create alignment among those who often disagreed violently with one another.
Unfortunately, Lincoln’s leadership was not perfect. He occasionally selected men for public service who were unworthy of his trust. One such individual was General George B. McClellan, commander of the “Army of the Potomac” and, eventually, first general-in-chief of the Union Army.
General McClellan had significant character flaws that serve as warning signs to anyone in leadership. Ultimately, these cost him a run for the White House (against Lincoln). Worse, they prolonged the Civil War and cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Here are the five flaws which emerge from Goodwin's book:
Hesitating to take definitive action. McClellan was constantly preparing. According to him, the Army was never quite ready. The troops just needed a little more training. In his procrastination, he refused to engage the enemy, even when he clearly had the advantage. He could just not bring himself to launch an attack. When Lincoln finally relieved him of his duties, he famously said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”
Complaining about a lack of resources. He constantly complained about the lack of available resources. He didn’t have enough men. His men weren’t paid enough. They didn’t have enough heavy artillery. And on and on he went. The truth is that, as a leader, you never have enough resources. You could always use more of one thing or another. But the successful leaders find a way to get the job done with the resources they have.
Refusing to take responsibility. McClellan was constantly blaming everyone else for his mistakes and for his refusal to act. He even blamed the President. Every time he suffered a defeat or a setback, someone or something was to blame. He was a master finger-pointer. Great leaders don’t do this. They are accountable for the results and accept full responsibility for the outcomes.
Abusing the privileges of leadership. While his troops were struggling in almost unbearable conditions, McClellan lived in near-royal splendour. He spent almost every evening entertaining guests with elaborate dinners and parties. He insisted on the best clothes and accommodations. His lifestyle stood in distinct contrast to General Ulysses S. Grant, his eventual successor, who often traveled with only a toothbrush.
Engaging in acts of insubordination. McClellan openly and continually criticised the President, his boss. He was passive-aggressive. Even when Lincoln gave him a direct order, he found a way to avoid obeying it. In his arrogance, he always knew better than the President and had a ready excuse to rationalise his lack of follow-through.
President Lincoln had the patience of Job. He gave General McClellan numerous opportunities to correct his behavior and redeem himself. But in the end, McClellan either could not or would not do so. He left the President no choice but to relieve him of his duties.
These same character flaws afflict many leaders today. The best safeguard is self-awareness.
'Colonel Richard Westley, who was awarded the Military Cross for his service in the Balkan Wars and now leads the Army's Operational Training Advisory Group, addressed leading Olympic coaches and performance directors at UK Sport's World Class Performance Conference on Tuesday. He told them that while the consequences of failure for athletes and soldiers are incomparable, the principles of team-building and the tools used to handle the pressures of life-and-death situations can have applications in sport.
"I believe there are elements that are applicable for the sporting arena," he said. "If you are an athlete who has devoted four or eight years to performing for a matter of minutes in Olympic competition, you are in a high-pressure, high-performance environment.
"They are totally focused on their performance, but the key for the Olympic team could be to try and give them a wider team ethos of Team GB. That is comparable to what we do with team building. Soldiers fight for their mates, for the guys they trained with and drank with, but they also have to fight for Queen and country. The team-building part of that is crucial, and there is a parallel between sport and the military."
Col Westley also pointed to similarities between the effects of pressure on soldiers and athletes. "For both the stakes are high when they are asked to perform at their best. For us it is life-and-death, for an athlete it could mean wasting four years of their life.
"So it is about inculcating a sense of pride, or national pride, team pride and individual pride in the effort. Whether you are fighting in Helmand or attempting to win an Olympic medal you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, 'Did I give it everything?'
"If the answer is no, it could define the rest of your life whether you're an athlete or a soldier. For those preparing for London they have less than 1,000 days to make sure that when they ask that question they can answer yes.
"They will face situations where all your instincts are telling them not to do something. They are fatigued, it is frightening and the pressure is for fight-or-flight, but their reaction in that ultimate moment will define the way they see themselves forever, regardless of whether they win or lose." '
Elite sport is a powerful metaphor for business, and there are some striking parallels.
Positive Leadership, Gavin Hastings (a former captain of The British & Irish Lions rugby team) brings his sporting experience to bear on the work we do for our clients.
Fierce competition, winning by sometimes the smallest margins, achieving goals and targets, establishing long-term and short-term strategies and tactics, hard work, perseverance, determination, teamwork, dealing with success and recovering from failure and setbacks - those are all key challenges in both worlds. Success in sports and business alike relies on the ability to continually move performance to higher levels. What you achieve this year will never be good enough next year. Goals and standards move onward and upward, creating an unrelenting demand to find new means and methods to ensure the delivery of performance curves that can seem tantalisingly, or even impossibly, out of reach. Many of the lessons you can learn from elite athletes can be transferred to business.
The first crucial lesson is that elite athletes are not born but made. Obviously there has to be some inborn natural ability - coordination, flexibility, anatomical and physiological capacity - just as successful senior leaders need to be able to both strategise and relate to people. But the real key to sustained excellence for both elite sports and business leaders is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in their heads; rather, it is the development of mental toughness.
The ability to thrive under almost inhuman pressure is perhaps the most defining characteristic of elite athletes. They excel when the heat is turned up. They are able to stay focused on the things that really matter in the face of a multitude of potential distractions. They are able to bounce back from setbacks with a determination and intense desire to succeed. And, most crucially, they are able to maintain their belief in themselves in the most trying circumstances.
For the very best athletes, making it to the top is the result of very careful planning, setting and hitting hundreds of small goals. And if it's hard reaching the top, that's nothing compared to what it takes to stay there. Expectations are enormous, and you become the target and benchmark for every other competitor. You have reached heady heights and have become highly visible and exposed.
It's a marvelous place to be, but it also comes with great potential vulnerability and loneliness if things go wrong. Sustained success in such an environment requires astounding physical ability, but that isn't enough to make you better than all the rest. You need an extraordinary mindset too. The positive and resilient mindsets of the best athletes underpin their drive and ability to reinvent themselves continuously in order to stay ahead of the pack.
Elite athletes also take time to celebrate their victories. It helps remind them why all the hard work and commitment is worthwhile. At a time when survival is a key priority in so many organisations, don't forget to spend time celebrating successes, however small they may be.
For more, see - Thriving on Pressure: Mental Toughness for Real Leaders
Vaughan’s new book, Michael Vaughan: Time to Declare - My Autobiography, charts his ascent to the world's No1 batsman, England captaincy and then the subsequent resignation and retirement. Above all, the book gives an excellent insight into the goldfish bowl of modern sport and will give even non-cricketing fans some real gems to help in all areas.
One of the aspects of performance improvement he mentions in the book is the 1% Solution.
Rather than looking at massive wholesale change, what are the small seemingly insignificant things you can look at which can make a difference to your performance. Whatever it is you want to improve upon, be that your game or your business, just take the time to write out a whole list of 1%'ers you could work on.
Experience with this approach is that the 1% seems manageable to the brain. It seems something that you can get a hold of and work on now. Just having the notion of ‘getting better’ is so vague. Once you have your list then get to work and you will begin to feel that momentum towards your destination is being created. The 1% should not be solely in one area, look at your whole life and as you make all of these seemingly insignificant changes you will look back and see some dramatic results.
- Broad education
- Boundless curiosity
- Boundless enthusiasm
- Belief in people and teamwork
- Willingness to take risks
- Devotion to long term growth rather than short term profit
- Commitment to excellence