I had a conversation with my friend and mentor James MacGregor Burns this past summer. The noted Presidential historian, now 90 years, asked me what I was doing. I said I was still passionately engaged in a life-long inquiry into the topic of leadership transformation or how one becomes an extraordinary leader.
Burns replied, “It’s a very complex subject,” reminding me of the quotation by the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I don’t give a twit about simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give everything for simplicity from the other side of complexity.”
Jim Burns has helped a lot with his distinction between transformational and transactional leadership. Transformational leaders raise follower’s aspirations and needs, and draws out people’s better selves. Transactional leaders make deals.
I had several insights this past week about leadership, each of which suggest success is about the genius of the “and” vs. an “either or” proposition.
Are you a John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson?
I had breakfast recently with Dan Glickman, a top gun at the Aspin Institute, a member of the Bipartisan Policy Committee, and former Secretary of Agriculture. We were talking about President Obama. After his charismatic campaigning and early wins in his first 100 days and beyond, he now seems so bogged down due to difficulties in being able to think and work together with Congress.
Dan explained that success or failure in leadership was about mastering the genius of the “and”. He said there were two kinds of Presidents (leaders). The first were leaders like JFK who had tremendous charisma, greatness of vision, and who could inspired millions with their oratory, but who could not make the trade-offs with the Congress needed to get things done. (Obama falls into this category). The second were leaders like Lyndon Johnson who possessed none of the charisma and greatness of vision, but who was a master of the senate, and knew how to accomplish things.
What kind of leader are you?