Scott Hodge


David McCullough on Leadership

Jun 12, 2008

Yesterday I read a very insightful interview with author & historian David McCullough in the March 2008 edition of Harvard Business Review.  Here are a few notes:

History is essential to anyone who wants to be a leader, because history is both about people and about cause and effect.

History also hows how the demands of leadership can change from one era to another, from one culture to another.  The leaders of the past experienced their present differently from the way we experience ours.

Spotting talent is one of the essential elements of great leadership. 

(Speaking of Washington) He wasn't a military genius.  He was a natural born leader and a man of absolute integrity.  And he could spot ability when it wasn't necessarily obvious. 

Good leaders….judge people by how they handle failure. 

The star performer who has never failed, never fallen flat on his face or been humiliated publicly, may not have what it takes when the going gets tough.

(Quoting military historian Douglas Freeman) "Know your stuff, be a man, look after your men."

"Knowing your stuff" means having expertise and experience and knowing what you're talking about.

Regardless of gender, "being a man" means having the attributes of courage – backbone – resilience, and strength of character.  Are you so filled up with your own ambitions and your sense of being terrific that you can't see the strengths in others?

"Look after your men" means take care of your employees.  Take a geniune interest in them.  Be empathetic.  Treat them well.

With a knowledge of history comes the understanding that one day you, too, will be judged by later generations. 

3 Responses to “David McCullough on Leadership”

  1. Ed says:

    Hey Scott, I just emailed you but got your auto-reply. If you get the chance, please shoot me a quick email sometime…

  2. Brad Gross says:

    Thanks for posting this. Very helpful.

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