“History is never over,” said Bob Woodward, two-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist for The Washington Post and author of All the President’s Men. Woodward kicked off the National Association of Realtors®’ Legislative meetings with a commentary on the current election cycle.
“What can we learn from presidents in the nation’s highest office that we can apply to politics today?” Woodward offered insights based on his analysis of former U.S. Presidents Nixon, Regan, Obama, and a bit from Gerald Ford. Woodward uncannily sounded like he could be talking about the aspirations of anyone in a leadership position, and therein lies the real value of sharing his thoughts.
His answer: the job of the president is to establish “the next stage of good.” Whether the priority is the economy, tax reform, healthcare, or war, the president’s job is to exhibit the moral intelligence to determine what’s best for the majority of people in the country.
- From Regan he learned the purpose of negotiation. It is to reach an agreement. It’s essential to put time into the problem and to listen well. Negotiation comes down to “one for you, one for me.” Neither side ever gets all that they want.
- From Obama he concluded that security doesn’t come from the “justness of our cause.” The world doesn’t work a certain way because we believe it should be that way. The world is full of regimes and radical groups that have no interest in our values. Righteousness is not enough.
- From Nixon he studied the flaw of using the power of the presidency for personal revenge. The presidency has to be a trust-responsibility formula about what is best for the people being served.
Part of the next stage of good is “putting right ahead of their career.” The Profile in Courage Award is the nation’s most prestigious award for public servants. The Kennedy family created the award in 1989, inspired by John F. Kennedy’s stories of eight US Senators “who took a decision against the wishes of their constituents, and in some cases gave up their careers, for the national interest.” It recognizes and celebrates the quality of political courage that JFK admired most.
The award distinguishes people who put what is right ahead of their position – the act of making history right. The family presented Gerald Ford with the award in 2001 for pardoning President Nixon. (That is a story for another post.)
“History is never over,” said Bob Woodward in his concluding remarks. “It’s been 49 years since Watergate, but there are still lessons to be learned”. (Woodward shares the rest of the Watergate story in his new book The Last of the President’s Men.)
My take-away from all this is that whether you’re the leader of the free world, a leader in your community, or the leader of an industry trade association, there is value in looking to the examples set by other leaders for ways to establish your own “next stage of good.”