“Leadership is the practical application of character.”
— R. E. Meinertzhagen
As you can tell from my previous posts, history has been a lifelong interest of mine. Coming from a non-air conditioned home, this interest was nurtured in our local library on the walk home from swimming lessons. Over a few years I worked my way up to big volumes of military history and became a contrarian on many long-settled topics.
So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that I am not a fan of some of the decisions our political and business leaders have made on our behalf. Over the next few weeks my postings will be on management and leadership. It seems to me that the general public gets the two mixed up quite a bit, and society suffers as a result.
A good example is business owners running for political office promising to “run the government like a business.” They have been doing it for years and as far as I can recall, no one has actually succeeded at it. Not that this should shock anyone; in a business the boss decides and the employees follow through — or find a new job. Sometimes they get to do both. In government, “the boss” is temporary and dozens of special interest groups know they can wait out any bold action that really changes the game they are playing.
History is rife with failed businessmen becoming truly great military or political leaders. U.S. Grant got nowhere as a shopkeeper, was a great general, a very flawed President, but a decent memoir writer. Harry Truman was part of the last generation of military officers “elected” by his unit, then failed as a shopkeeper before going into politics. His resume hardly suited a man handed some of the toughest decisions in modern history, but the ex-haberdasher rose to the occasion.
I am sure there have been great businessmen who became great political leaders — I just can’t recall their names. Lots of failed generals became great businessmen; their names are on roads, bridges, and buildings all around the country. The search for clues as to why some skills transfer and others don’t is what makes reading history so much fun.