LEADERSHIP SUMMIT 2009 – David Gergen: Eyewitness to Power

Posted on August 7, 2009




Eyewitness to Power

I believe that leadership is a journey, and each has to take their own path, but there are people along the way that can help you on this journey. A teacher of leadership cannot produce a leader; it’s kinda like taking an art class. No one is going to make you a Picasso. What you can do is introduce people to the principles of leadership. The most important question is can you create a culture that inspires leadership. The most important thing for me is not when students learn things, it’s when they go off and do things, when they put their leadership to practice.

How does a leader get better? You have to get better. Some are born, and some have the makings. But whether you have it or not, you have to learn. “Reflective Practice.” Where you really learn is in the arena, but it’s also about continually reading. Not every reader is a leader, but ever leader is a reader. It’s the combination of doing, reading, and reflecting. Where did I go wrong? Where did I go right?

It’s easy to confuse motion with progress. The best leaders are one who choose to think carefully about their progress. (cf. The Effective Executive) You’ve got to be willing to wrestle. When you’re down on the dance floor dancing, occasionally it’s important to go to the balcony, and reflect on the dances taking place.

“Someone who can look farther back can look farther ahead.” – Nixon

(re: Reagan) If you’re around leaders who have a positive optimism, you can be inspired to go.

“Inspect is as important as respect.” You’ve got to keep your eye on things. You can’t let go.

“The theory is that great leaders carry around great flaws. Agree, disagree?” Not all great leaders are deeply flawed. Christ is an example of that. We are all flawed, and growing in maturity is coming to grips with your flaws. Self-awareness is key. Jung challenged us to have an “authentic personality.”

Big question: How do you bring alignment between your personal and private life and your public behavior? Mandella, “You get up every day and try to be better.” Regarding leaders, we should be more forgiving and less invasive about people’s private lives, but very demanding about their public lives, how they conduct themselves and account to their organizations.

Warren Bennis – “The day of the lone ranger leader is over.” The world is too complex, and increasingly, the role of leadership is to inspire and bring along the team, but then you need to work outside your team as well. Learn how to partner and collaborate so that there is a sense that we build things together. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The importance of symbolism. Leadership is no longer ordering others, but persuading them. Trust is big, and how you role model. But it’s also about symbolic things. Symbols matter to people. In the commercial world, they call it your “brand.” Symbols give people hope and inspiration. (cf: https://vialogue.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/earth-hour-08-and-the-power-of-symbols/)

“There’s nothing so good for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” – Reagan

Speeches take place in a context, never in a vacuum. Who the speaker is speaks as loudly as what the speaker says. We are so bombarded by words, we ask the question, who are we going to listen to in the midst of this cacophony? Your willingness to listen to them is contingent upon how much you trust them. You want someone that is rooted. You also want someone that can explain it in a way that is clear and simple. Aristotle’s Rhetoric: three elements to a good speech: ethos, logos, pathos. Ethos: personality. Logos: logic. Pathos: the emotion. There also ought to be a rhythm to the speaking. A great speech really shouldn’t be more than 15-20 min. If the speaker goes longer than that. About a 1/4 shut off, 1/4 fights sleep, 1/2 the audience engages in sexual fantasies!

If you’re coming in front of someone who doesn’t know you, the person introducing you should establish the ethos. Then it’s really important to introduce a little emotion, to listen fully to the message, then the logos, the reason. If you want to inspire people to do things, you’ve got to get them up. And that call is not just about the appeal, it’s about how they get up and walk out.

Personal habits of leaders. Self-discipline is about how you lead your own life. The best leaders have good personal disciplines. Have real control over your life. It is important to be physically fit; leadership is a very physically demanding exercise. If your body goes flabby, your mind goes flabby; and that’s important for the hard times in life. Build time into your day to reflect. Build time into your day to spend with people who you cherish, and who cherish you.