An Open Letter to (Potentially) One of History’s Greatest Leaders

“A man ain’t got no sense until he’s 35, and then barely.”  Sheriff Lucian, in the Longmire Detective series. 

It takes five years for start-ups to get it right.  It takes at least fifteen years, and probably more, to grow into an effective start-up manager and leader.  I say “probably more,” because I’ve been at it fifteen years now and I”m not there. 

But a start-up friend who I know well asked me for some leadership advice the other day – we’ll call him Johnny.

Abraham Lincoln was a great leader.  He wrote letters to those he was leading.  Here’s my letter to Johnny.

Dear Johnny,

You have more than your fair share of the necessary conditions to be a great leader.  

You have character.  Leadership without character is manipulation, not leadership.

You have love.  No one on your team will follow you if they don’t believe that you care more about them than your vision.  You care about your people more than any leader I’ve ever met. 

You have vision.  You instinctively know what your organization must do, and be, in its core competencies.  Not only that, you embody that vision.  

You have positive energy.  People follow positive energy flow from a leader as, to quote Jack London, “life grows towards the light.”

You have commitment.  You sold your truck.  You sold your fishing boat.  (We got us the makings of a country song, here)  You lived on manna from heaven in the desert.  No one following you can question your commitment.  To know you, and follow you, is to be inspired. 

You know your strengths.  Which means you know your weaknesses, and you admit them.  So your people can trust you.

Most good leaders only exhibit 3-4 leadership characteristics.  You have 6 and I could probably keep going for days here. 

So perhaps more Leadership development is not what your organization needs from you.  Perhaps its more Management development. Luckily, management skills are easily learned, as easy as ABC.  Even Harvard and Stanford grads can become good managers, but rarely (myself being surrounded by them in my Day Job) are they good leaders.  




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3 responses to “An Open Letter to (Potentially) One of History’s Greatest Leaders

  1. PQ

    You’re alive! 🙂

    I love the breadth of your quotes — Jack London, the sheriff.

    Doesn’t it seem sometimes like effective management and good leadership mutually exclusive? The difference between a CEO and a founder?

    • RG3

      Rare to get both in one. Mark Donegan at Precision Castparts and Alan Mulally at Ford/Boeing come to mind. Smart leaders hire good managers, or the boards force them on to the founder.

      Leadership precedes Management, don’t you think?

  2. PQ

    Absolutely. Good leadership comes from je ne sais quoi and good management follows the best formula.

    If you look at why the Iraqi army abandoned its posts and fled when the jihadists came through, it call came down to bad leadership. The Iraqi army had all the right processes in place, the Americans had taught them all that. The guys in charge were good managers. They didn’t know how to lead.

    But the guys in charge took off their uniforms and put on flip flops and walked away at the first sign of trouble from the Islamic State. The rank and file didn’t know what to do, and so they all abandoned post, thus handing all that American-provided weaponry to the enemy.

    Bad leadership.

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