As a business owner, I am always interested in learning about great managers and their habits and processes, how they lead and deal with people and adversity, what their life experiences taught them and how their successes and failures were results of either serendipity and/or careful planning. I find it all fascinating. Of course, if I can glean any epiphanies and apply it to my own life, all the better. As such, inspiration can come in many forms. I’m currently reading two books that prove that contention. One is a biography and the other fiction: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré.
Team of Rivals is arguably the most thoughtful and engaging biography of Abraham Lincoln to date. Goodwin, the esteemed historian, offers insights into Lincoln’s leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. While she covers some familiar territory on Lincoln’s childhood and background, Goodwin’s perspective is refreshing as she investigates Lincoln’s relationship with the rivals he chose for his cabinet.
John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy is his followup to the terrific Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in the Karla Triology. The hero is the unflappable George Smiley. Quiet, mild-mannered and brilliant, Smiley is the anti-James Bond. He is a master of subtle, disciplined intelligence work. He has a profound insight into human weakness and fallibility. His sense of morality and loyalty inspires the same in his people.
Whether they are historical figures or fictional characters, exceptional managers share many of the same traits. They are individuals with principles and convictions. They are sagacious and perceptive. And they have a understanding of human nature set against their own failings. In the end, they did the best with what they had, which inspires those who choose to follow them. I can think of many great leaders, from business to politics to thinkers to professional sports. To name a few: Winston Churchill, Elon Musk, Phil Jackson, Martin Luther King…