Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lincoln and Shackleton

I recently came across two leadership lessons that engineers can learn from.  The first from a U.S. president and the second from a U.K. polar explorer.

The New York Times covers the management lesson from Lincoln in an article today by Nancy Koehn - - Lincoln's School of Management: Resilience and Careful Listening, as Learned in 1862.  In our world of complexity and turbulence, Lincoln's ability to shift gears during hard times, without giving up the ultimate goal, is an important lesson for engineering leaders.

From the article:

"Lincoln is striking because he did all this under extremely difficult circumstances," Mr. Bloom {a strategic adviser to consumer-related companies} said.  "Some of his ability to navigate such difficult terrain was about emotional intelligence and the deep faith he nurtured about his vision.  But some of it was also about how he gathered advice and information from a wide range of people, including those who did not agree with him.  This is important in building a business because you have to listen to customers, employees, suppliers and investors, including those who are critical of what you are doing."

Several other good points in the article:
  • Imagine if e-mail had existed in 1862.  Lincoln was a slow, deliberate thinker, examining an issue from  many sides.  Leadership requires forbearance - - e-mail is not a great tool for thinkers and leaders like Lincoln.  Remember the recent movie and Lincoln setting in the telegraph office waiting for news of the war.  He was thinking.  The pressures of 24/7 action versus setting in a telegraph office and just thinking need careful thought.
  • Business leadership is serving all the people and not just one's self-interest.  Success is best when shared.
  • Leadership is getting people on a higher road with a higher purpose.
The second leadership lesson is from Sir Ernest Shackleton.  The Shackleton story is widely known and repeated in leadership lessons - - a tribute to leadership and endurance while trapped on the ice in the Antarctica.  Global engineering firm Arup (they have a great website) has an interesting take on the Shackleton experience.  Read more at this link.  They also have a video clip at the link.

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