[July 25, 2020] This is a two-part mini-series about preparing strategic leaders. Yesterday, I noted that there are similarities among senior leaders that should be explored (see link here). This life-long exploration is something I’ve invested considered time and energy. This series is a summary of some of my observations and thoughts.
As previously noted, the first pattern we found for developing wisdom in strategic leaders is through combining demanding experiences with a lifetime of intensive self-study. I used William Manchester’s famous book The Last Lion as a backdrop in discussing British PM Churchill.1
Here are the final two patterns:
Second, while looking into the future is difficult, having a keen insight is nonetheless crucial for strategic leadership. Strategic leaders must put themselves into the minds of the enemy and look to unexpected events. This means considerable knowledge of the world, which can only be obtained through practiced experience. Political genius lies in seeing over the horizon, anticipating a future invisible to others.
Like Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a senior military officer, one who saw, firsthand, the impact of war and the destruction it wrought. In his book, Eisenhower in War and Peace (2012), Jean Edward Smith tells the story of Eisenhower’s rise to Generalship and the U.S. Presidency. He documents this canny politician and a skillful, decisive leader who managed not only to keep the peace but also to enhance America’s prestige.
Third, the best strategic leaders maximize the contributions of their subordinates. They can draw upon the knowledge and skills of their subordinates at the right time and place. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, excelled at this skill as evidence by his proclivity for details and desire for political debate.
In her biography of Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time (1995), author Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of how he communicated with those that worked for him, his ability to talk to them (and make sense) directly, and his elevation of those who could ‘get the job done.’ President Roosevelt was, if anything, a practical president and one that knew the value of trusted subordinates at this side. He depended upon them and had the uncanny ability to pick the best and brightest.
These three common threads should be studied more thoroughly as we develop senior leaders. The U.S. military is doing an adequate job at it, but our commercial sector lacks even the most basic understanding of strategic leadership training.