With the resolution of the most raucous presidential election in my memory, I sought out what appeared to be a civil voice. I don’t know much about him but have always admired David Gergen. He is a CNN commentator and in my opinion is a voice of reason amidst other more partisan, bickering and angry voices. On Wednesday after the election, I began reading “Eyewitness to Power,” his book about service as a speech writer in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations. What I read is a treasure trove of tips on leadership, communicating, crisis management and public speaking and how all those come together to spell “effective or ineffective” leadership.
Here is what I took away.
Nixon, with a brilliant mind, could not rise above a desire to punish his enemies, dooming his presidency with his shame filled resignation.
While many political figures such as J. Edgar Hoover got by with similar misdeeds, Nixon was not prepared for a changing world when transparency was becoming the gold standard. His sin? Not even so much that he did wrong but that he lied about it.
Ford took over and is in Gergen’s view, the most underestimated of presidents. His pardon of Nixon was not in and of itself wrongheaded but how it was done doomed his administration to failure. He is described by Gergen as an uncommonly fine man with sturdy Midwestern values. My favorite story is of observing him fixing breakfast for his wife Betty during a staff meeting. That act alone cemented his solid character with his staff.
Reagan is of course referred to as the great communicator. He possessed all the elements of a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) as opposed to a sky high IQ, which is often too highly rated in leadership. Knowing how to relate to people, read situations, and exercise discipline in order to perform at your best are all key in getting things done.