In America, it is election time. Leaders are raising their voices and ideas, and many are concerned, confused, and conflicted. Worldwide, people are curious and anxious as well. Words are spewed with seemingly little thought, yet the words are what worry many, wondering if what is said would become what is done.
History resonates. Past presidents show the way forward or, at least, give us some comfort in what we need to be as a nation. Our community is more than just the border of the United States. Today, borders are electronic, connecting many diverse citizens to solve problems and share ideas.
Past presidents also show that no human leader is perfect. What is pursued is a general willingness to do their best, learn through mistakes, and work to create a better future. A higher purpose is embedded in their intentions and leadership.
Presidential views on leading may help us center again.
Presidential Views on Leadership
The value of discipline
“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all” – George Washington
Discipline organizes. In organization, strength builds. Discipline equalizes, keeping us on an equal footing. As a community, we understand the value of discipline in achieving big goals with few resources. A good reminder in business as well.
Character requires freedom
“You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.” – Abraham Lincoln
People need space to pursue goals. In crafting a better society and culture, individual strands show their diversity. None of this prevents interdependence. To have durable collaboration, strong individuals entwine to gain the most from the most. Character requires responsibility, which is more than a silent partner to freedom.
Ideals lift our mindset and actions
“If a man does not have an ideal and try to live up to it, then he becomes a mean, base and sordid creature, no matter how successful.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Leading requires ideals. Lifted spirits accomplish much good. Inspiring ideals make us better contributors.
Engineering disrupts and creates
“The engineer performs many public functions from which he gets only philosophical satisfactions. Most people do not know it, but he is an economic and social force. Every time he discovers a new application of science, thereby creating a new industry, providing new jobs, adding to the standards of living, he also disturbs everything that is. New laws and regulations have to be made and new sorts of wickedness curbed. He is also the person who really corrects monopolies and redistributes national wealth.” – Herbert Hoover
Progress requires a technical underpinning to advance forward with better products, better designs, and better competition. We need to build a culture that builds better futures for as many as possible.
Healthy habits keep our minds healthy
“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” – John F. Kennedy
Creativity springs from healthy minds. Healthy minds require healthy activity. The engine of ingenuity needs a well-kept engine.
What we believe in matters
“In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored. If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day’s pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and union, and in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday be free. And we believe in ourselves.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
What are we? What do we believe? Believing is remembering we are built to leave a legacy. Each generational turn requires a renewed focus on how we can raise our beliefs in what is possible for as many as possible. Believing raises our efforts beyond the daily tasks. Believing brings out the best in self and others.
Civility and moderation are not vices
“I have always believed that most people are mostly good, most of the time. I have never mistaken moderation for weakness, nor civility for surrender. As far as I’m concerned, there are no enemies in politics – just temporary opponents who might vote with you on the next Roll Call.” – Gerald R. Ford
A return to the middle builds bonds to move beyond the battle of the immediate. Civility encourages debate and solution. From the middle emerges solutions that work.
Conflict is constant; apply peace often
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” – Ronald Reagan
Within our idealism, conflict knocks. We must answer the call to debate with the objective of resolving with dignity and respect. How we navigate conflict determines whether leaders have learned and adapted in meaningful ways.
Working hard for opportunity’s sake
“And yet, even though you’ve come of an age where change is happening so rapidly, your generation I think believes deeply that you can change this world for the better. You’re more interested in hard work — the hard work of waging peace than the easy impulse towards conflict. You’re more interested in the hard work of building prosperity through entrepreneurship, instead of cronyism and corruption. You’re more eager for the progress that comes not from holding down people who are not like you, but lifting everybody up so that everybody has an opportunity, regardless of what they look like or how they pray or who they love. And that makes me hopeful. I’m always inspired by young people.” – Barack Obama
Each generation brings change. Change is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Each day, we absorb something new that requires us to shift our thinking and actions. Youthful spirit enlivens all, and we can never dampen the soul of a younger generation.
Presidential Responsibility. Our Responsibility.
History can be kind or dismissive, just as words can be generous or divisive. While history evaluates what successful leadership involves, it also shows what we should avoid as characteristics and direction. We need to choose to study, listen, absorb, and move forward in a thoughtful, progressive, and positive way.
Words matter, as do deeds. Reading about past presidents can gain added insights. Shining through will be words like:
Others will be mixed in. The key is simple: Leaders have a responsibility to learn from history and then lead to make the current and next generation better than before. Responsibility is no different for the business leaders, community leader, or university leader. As leaders, we have a responsibility.
Harry Truman may have said it best:
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”