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Seven Leadership Lessons from Seven Presidents

How do organizations encourage innovation, manage change, and foster strategic thinking and collaboration? Effective leadership can make the difference between a good organization and a great one. The best leaders are not strangers to learning from others – whether that’s how to apply specific strategies or techniques to survive in challenging economic times or cultivate the skills that can increase power and influence. While many of citizens of the U.S. view President’s Day as a holiday that potentially relieves them of the nine-to-five grind, we’re looking to the country’s past and present leaders for lessons that can be applied to business success:

Blooming Cherry Tree

Honesty is the best policy – There’s nary a person above grade school age who hasn’t heard the folktale about George Washington cutting down hisfather’s cherry tree. “I cannot tell a lie,” said young George.  As today’s businesses continue to embrace new modes of communication such as social media, embracing a similar commitment to honesty and open communication is critical.

One of the powers of social media is transparency –people know with whom they are doing business and the values purported by that organization. Transparency is synonymous with trust so addressing mistakes diplomatically and with honesty is often the best policy. Business leaders should take a note from our founding father and ensure all internal and external communication is honest and truthful.  

Lincoln Memorial

Create alignment from the start – At the Republican State Convention held the summer of 1858, Abraham Lincoln warned fellow Americans that a house divided against itself cannot stand. He stressed the importance of sharing a single vision and how that alignment would enable the nation to move forward.

Getting alignment upfront provides target audiences with a shared perspective that fosters better engagement and collaboration. That’s not to say that some opposition isn’t healthy; President Lincoln’s own cabinet wasn’t comprised of friends. Naysayers can help reveal holes in logic, but once a position has been agreed upon, progress relies on everyone contributing to common cause.

Invest in your own success – During his recent State of the Union address President Obama urged Americans to out innovate, out educate and out build the rest of the world. Achieving this goal, he noted, would require investments in infrastructure.  

To remain competitive, companies need to invest in their own infrastructure whether that’s leadership development; product research and development; or implementing the best practices that increase employee engagement and motivate employees to perform to the best of their ability.

Don’t let your mistakes define you – If there is anyone who has nailed the ability to recover from a tarnished image, it is Bill Clinton. While it’s too early to tell how he’ll be remembered in history, he hasn’t let his gaffe get in his way.

Today’s relentless 24/7 broadcast media, bloggers and social networking tools have upped the ante when it comes to transparency and insight into a company’s mistakes. With errors more visible, it’s how gracefully and rapidly you recover from them that has become more important than ever before.

Crisis can be a grand opportunity – During the Great Depression, FDR focused not only on helping people get through tough times, but implemented measures to make people more resilient in the future.

Seek alternative strategies and demonstrate trusted leadership to keep people engaged and resilient while not only maintaining the bottom line, but to ensure future growth. This means being quick to respond to threats, and thinking of new and innovative ways to get work done, including being open-minded to new technologies. Rather than focus on challenges as problems, effective leaders should recognize them as opportunities for action.

Maintain grace under pressure - The 40th president of the United States,Ronald Regan faced many challenges during his presidency from a near-assassination to implementing tough economic decisions, but through it all he was known for his congenial ways (and love ofjelly beans).

Civility in the workplace is essential for customer satisfaction and loyalty, employee retention and productivity and overall company health. When it starts at the top, companies can build a culture of respect, support and collaboration.

Perception is reality - JFK‘s presidency was the first to play out in pop culture. With a new medium for message delivery –television – JFK had the savvy foresight to carefully craft his public image. This prompted the media’s marketing of the term Camelot, which stemmed from Jackie Kennedy’s recollection that her husband liked “Camelot,” the Broadway musical that opened a month after Kennedy’s election.

Today, image extends beyond our physical appearance or how we look on TV to a wide range of highly visible venues – websites, conferences and trade shows, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and more. For leaders who are still hesitant about participating in social media, realize that a lack of presence may not keep your product or service top of mind with an audience hungry for information and social media participation. Because perception is reality, consider your total image and how you want to be remembered.