Leadership Lessons from The Past That Political and Business Leaders Can Take Into 2021

       There are various issues and considerations existing in the leadership literature as the core of the criticism in the literature is that organizations of all sorts (corporations, governments, and non-profit organizations) tend to be over-managed (and, in some cases, over-administrated) and under-led. Reading all the books on leadership today will cover the gamut of Shakespeare to Geronimo. Not to say that these authors, leaders, and thinkers do not have anything good to say about leadership. It is just that the plethora of leadership literature has sent mixed signals to political and corporate leaders.

        When thinking of leadership and politics, a leader has to be a politician but a politician does not always have to be a leader. In American politics in 2020, a crucial year between the democratic and republican parties, this presidential election has shown that there is a direct connection between politics and CEOs, who at least think they are experienced enough to hold the ultimate leadership position. Political leaders are not any different than organizational businessmen. More and more business men and women are becoming political candidates and people are responding positively. The reason being—the two do go together. At the heart of leadership are a large amount of followers. Without the support of followers, leaders will fail. The same thing goes with the political candidate that has to win the hearts and minds of the followers to get elected.

        There are many more followers than there are leaders and this is more so in the political realm. The question is: can political leaders and corporate leaders lead the same way? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” For example, Eisenhower, one of the former presidents of the United States in World War II, effectively led both American government and the Allied Forces in Europe in defeating Adolf Hitler. Eisenhower’s leadership provides lessons for CEOs in today’s organizational challenges. Eisenhower argued that leaders must care for their people as individuals, always remain optimistic, and place themselves with and for the people, and, most importantly, provide the WHY behind what you ask them to do. Hitler has been posited as a charismatic leader as he converted many brilliant people to follow him but the difference with his leadership style is that he represents the “Black Hat” of leadership. A leadership status that is not only a failing platform but one that represents destruction as opposed to innovation and expansion.

        Politics and corporate leadership may merge today. Political leaders often provide what is called “Top Cover” flying above their followers to ensure their mission is a success. Submarines travel with pilot ships to guide them. This is what corporate leaders need to do. At the corporate level, investors recognize the importance of leadership. A good leader can turn a weak business plan into a success, but a poor leader can ruin even the best plan. One example of this comes from CEO Rich Teerlink, who dramatically changed Harley-Davidson in the 1980s, and fundamentally built a different organisation that still prospers today. The success of leadership at the Harley-Davidson Corporation has stood the test of time. For example, Harley-Davidson’s leadership created a more effective organization built upon three primary principles, focusing on people, challenging norms, and continuing to fundamentally change. At Harley, every employee can participate in leadership decision-making.

        Another example of business leaders in a highly competitive environment is Steve Jobs, former leader of the Apple, who built a highly effective organization through taking a change-oriented leadership approach, which highly manifested itself in talent, product, organization, and marketing. As a result, leadership, being the core of management, is crucial to company’s success—-both from a performance and management level.

        The evidence from these examples suggests that leadership is highly demanding at the corporate level. For organizations to achieve a sustained change and eventually a higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness, selecting a great corporate leader is the key to success. In the absence of leadership, organizations lose their required direction to achieve a high degree of hyper competitiveness, and cannot implement successful change in order to adapt with today’s global business environment.   

        As corporate leaders attempt to manage people they find that intellectual capital is the in the forefront of success—Bill Gates once mentioned that if he lost his top 50 people that he would not have an organization anymore. Corporate leaders develop organizational communications aimed at providing valuable resources for all organizational members. They enhance knowledge sharing among intellectual capital and stipulate knowledge to be shared around the organization. Sharing the best practices and experiences could positively impact some aspects of non-financial performance such as innovation, providing learning and growth opportunities for employees. Empowered employees can enable organizations to actively respond to environmental changes, which can in turn enhance performance in terms of return on assets and return on sales.  

        The outcome is success which narrows the gap between success and failure and this can be achieved by the commitment of organizational members and facilitated by corporate leader. When corporate leaders show concern for the employee’s individual needs, individuals begin to contribute more commitment and they become more inspired them to put extra effort into their work. This extra effort improves customer satisfaction and impacts shareholder value and improves operational risk management.

        Therefore, success in politics and business can be more effective when leadership is applied to change attitudes and assumptions. Political and corporate leaders can make a fundamental change in the processes by which governments and business organizations serve their clients. They fundamentally affect the way governments and business organizations perform their functions. And governments and business organizations have succeeded and failed based upon the various leaders that make the decisions that impact society.

Mostafa Sayyadi | Contributing Writer

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