First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

The road to America leads through Gettysburg

Reenactors participate in a demonstration during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch, Zach Gibson)

Reenactors participate in a demonstration during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch, Zach Gibson)

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Nancy F. Koehn for the Washington Post. To read the complete article, check out other resources, obtain subscription information, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

* * *

All roads to our America lead through Gettysburg. 150 years ago, President Lincoln arrived there around dusk and set foot on the sacred soil that, just four months earlier, had run with blood of the Civil War. Then the next morning, November 19, 1863, he stood under a clear sky—on earth since transformed from a battlefield to a burial ground—and delivered a deceptively simple speech atop Cemetery Hill that, in just a few short minutes, changed American history forever.

To this day, the Gettysburg Address continues to shape who we are as a people and as a nation. Without it, we don’t have Martin Luther King, Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 100 years later saying, “I Have a Dream.” We don’t have John and Robert Kennedy taking the first tentative steps toward civil rights legislation. We don’t have, nearly 50 years after that, the election of our nation’s first black president.

Without the Gettysburg Address, we don’t have the promise of America brought to complicated, often difficult life.

In the battle itself, more than 50,000 men on both sides had been killed, captured or wounded in a three-day struggle that ended with the Confederate army retreating south across the Potomac. It was a Union victory, in a way, but Lincoln was furious and disappointed that Federal troops hadn’t pursued the defeated Confederates as they marched back, crushed the rebel army and ended the war.

In the ensuing months, as the fighting dragged on, Lincoln tried to make sense of the magnitude and duration of the conflict and of its enormous, mounting losses. What was the essence of the nation for which so many Americans, black as well as white, had sacrificed so much? How did the ultimate meaning of America explain, perhaps even redeem, the war itself and why it must continue to be waged?

It was out of his unshakeable responsibility, his empathy, his melancholy, his exasperation, his ability to divine the right and his commitment to preserve the Union that the substance of what would become the Gettysburg Address was born.

With his speech, he provided a template for what we have since come to define as the heart of great American leadership. Lincoln shared his vision for the country’s future, helping its citizens look beyond the horrors toward greater good—and beyond the nation’s imperfections and dangers, toward progress and redemption.

Lincoln left Gettysburg the evening of November 19th satisfied he had delivered his intended messages: a rebirth of founding ideals and a plea for his fellow Americans to change their own hearts. He explained how the conflict would serve as a reconstruction of the “nation,” a word he used five times in that short address. In late 1863, however, no one believed that the president’s remarks comprised a speech for the ages.

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Ent6493Nancy F. Koehn is an historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn’s research focuses on entrepreneurial leadership and how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact. She is currently working on a book about the most important lessons from six leaders’ journeys, including Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Shackleton and Rachel Carson. Her most recent book, The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times (Harvard Business Press, 2009), examines the people, events, and larger forces that have shaped business in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nancy F. Koehn on “Lincoln’s School of Management”

LINCOLN-1-COVER-articleLarge

A 2012 re-enactment of the Battle of Shiloh as captured by a pinhole camera in Michie, Tenn. Such a camera has no lens, viewfinder or shutter — just a pinhole at the front and film at the back. Images can be soft and require long exposures. More photographs are at civilwar150pinholeproject.com.No retouching or Photoshop processes were used on these images, with the exception of basic color correction.

Photo credit: Michael Falco

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Nancy F. Koehn for The New York Times in which she examines the legacy of Abraham Lincoln hangs over every American president. “To free a people, to preserve the Union, “to bind up the nation’s wounds”: Lincoln’s presidency, at a moment of great moral passion in the country’s history, is a study in high-caliber leadership.”

To read the complete article, please click here.

* * *

In this season of all things Lincoln — when Steven Spielberg is probably counting his Oscars already — executives, entrepreneurs and other business types might consider dusting off their history books and taking a close look at what might be called the Lincoln school of management.

Even before Lincoln the movie came along, there was a certain cult of leadership surrounding the 16th president. C.E.O.’s and lesser business lights have long sought inspiration from his life and work. But today, as President Obama embarks on a new term and business leaders struggle to keep pace with a rapidly changing global economy, the lessons of Lincoln seem as fresh as ever. They demonstrate the importance of resilience, forbearance, emotional intelligence, thoughtful listening and the consideration of all sides of an argument. They also show the value of staying true to a larger mission.

“Lincoln’s presidency is a big, well-lit classroom for business leaders seeking to build successful, enduring organizations,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an e-mail. Lincoln, he said, “always looked upward and always called American citizens to a higher road and to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by listening carefully to those both inside and outside of his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present and authenticity are essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a country in wartime or a company during a period of transformation.”

As a historian at Harvard Business School, I have been a student of Lincoln for more than a decade. I have written a case study and several articles about his presidency and talked extensively about him to business executives and entrepreneurs. The film Lincoln , which follows his efforts to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment, making slavery unconstitutional, offers ample evidence of his ability to lead. But to me, his earlier experience in drafting and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation offers one of the best ways to appreciate his strengths as a leader.

Before and after he signed the proclamation, 150 years ago this month, Lincoln confronted a string of military setbacks, intense political opposition and his own depression and self-doubts. In the summer of 1862, Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee attacked “repeatedly, relentlessly, with a courage bordering on recklessness,” as the historian James M. McPherson has written. Union supporters realized that the Civil War — originally envisioned as a short, swift conflict — would be much longer and bloodier than imagined.

Northern newspapers and politicians assailed the administration for incompetence. The number of Union Army volunteers dwindled. Abolitionists, who since the war’s start had urged Lincoln to move aggressively against slavery, grew increasingly frustrated.

All of this bore down on the president. When he learned that George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had retreated after a series of conflicts known as the Seven Days’ Battles, Lincoln described himself “as nearly inconsolable as I could be and live.” And, personally, the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie, five months earlier still weighed heavily on both the president and his wife.

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn’s research focuses on entrepreneurial leadership and how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact. She is currently working on a book about the most important lessons from six leaders’ journeys, including Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Shackleton and Rachel Carson. Her most recent book, The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times (Harvard Business Press, 2009), examines the people, events, and larger forces that have shaped business in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting Steve Jobs in perspective

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES

Here is an excerpt from an especially insightful article written by Nancy Koehn. It is part of The Washington Post‘s recent  On Leadership roundtable exploring Tim Cook’s succession of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, and how to follow in the footsteps of an icon. At the conclusion of the excerpt, I provide links to several other outstanding articles. To read all of Koehn’s complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

At this week’s iPhone 5 launch, we have our first official glimpse into Tim Cook’s leadership style as he takes the stage as Apple’s CEO. Many wonder how Cook will handle running a business handed over by one of greatest leaders and entrepreneurs of our time, Steve Jobs. Jobs is an icon who forever changed the way we connect. However, he was not the first American business leader to exercise tremendous influence over the way people live and think about what is possible. And this is not the first time such a leader has been replaced.

True, Jobs is on a short list of great American entrepreneurs. Along with Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and Estée Lauder, Jobs has had an exceptional ability to envision what could be: products and services we couldn’t have imagined that we now can’t live without. These leaders all share an intense passion, a driving persistence, a keen sense of strategy and a relentless focus on the details of executing their respective visions. In the 14 years since he returned to the company he helped found, Jobs has embodied all of these attributes (as Apple’s long streak of product homeruns, its $350 billion market capitalization and its powerful brand attest). Given this context, the elephant in the room at the iPhone 5 launch is this: With Jobs gone, can Tim Cook carry the legacy?

Jobs has said he spent a lot of time selecting and developing his executive team. But Apple is not generally known for nurturing talent and giving its smart people the authority and scope to grow on the job. With Jobs’s dogged focus on “what’s next,” as well as his reputation for holding the reins of power tightly, it is reasonable to ask whether he has had the bandwidth (and inclination) to develop a succession plan that could render him obsolete.

But, history offers up several examples of gifted, charismatic (and controlling) founders successfully passing the baton to their successors. Take Thomas J. Watson, Sr., at IBM. By the time his son, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., took over in the 1950s, many of his father’s contributions had been baked into the company culture. Not only did this keep the organization from faltering during transition, it enabled the son to focus on the next stage of important changes as its market and customers evolved. At McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, who did more to create the fast-food company than anyone else, built a team from inside the company that could carry his leadership torch after he was no longer as active in the business.

The most decisive factor in a successful leadership transition—and the reason IBM and McDonald’s stayed strong—is whether the founder or CEO has effectively institutionalized his or her own contributions. Certainly those within Apple well understand Jobs’s values and attributes: his painstaking attention to detail, his boldness of vision and his confidence in understanding what the consumer wants. And as a longtime member of the company’s executive team, Tim Cook (who came to the company in 1998) has seen Jobs’s work ethic, energy and hands-on management style up close.

*     *     *

Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School and author, most recently, of The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times.

More On This Story:

Tim Cook, here’s how to lead Apple

Putting Steve Jobs in perspective

Should Tim Cook wear a black turtleneck?

More from On Leadership

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Story of American Business: A book review by Bob Morris

The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times
Nancy F. Koehn, Editor
Harvard Business Press (2009)

The Who, What, When, How, and Why of U.S. Free Enterprise

Credit Nancy Koehn with skillfully selecting, organizing, and then editing a wealth of material that originally appeared in The New York Times from May 11, 1869 (“East and West,” an account by an unnamed correspondent of the celebration at Promontory Point when the railway first connected New York and California) until September 28, 2008 (“The Richest Man and How He Grew That Way,” Janet Maslin’s review of Alice Schroeder’s biography of Warren Buffett). The material is carefully organized according to three major themes: the corporation, American business and the changing nature of work, and the defining moments in technology. As Koehn suggests, “Taken together, these aspects provide us a kind of wide-angle lens on some – though by no means all – of the most important individuals and events that shaped American business history and that, in turn, did so much to give form to our own time and our possibilities in it.”

I especially appreciate the timelines that are inserted strategically throughout the narrative. They help to create a frame-of-reference for the profiles, as well as analyses of trends and significant events, briefings on historical periods, book reviews, end-of-year summary evaluations, and speeches such as the one delivered by Theodore Roosevelt in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on August 21, 1907, during which he shares his thoughts about the politics of his administration with regard to trusts. He also praises Puritan ancestors who “tamed the wilderness, and built up a free government on the stump-dotted clearings, amidst the primeval forest.” The variety of subjects correctly suggests the scope and depth of what Koehn refers to as “the most important individuals and events that shaped American business history and that, in turn, did so much to give form to our own time and our possibilities in it.”

Most readers will check out the Contents and then select articles of special interest to them. Others may prefer to proceed through one section to the next. Whatever the approach, the reading experience shares much in common with a situation in which a person begins to clear out an attic, cellar, garage or storage area and finds several boxes filled with clippings of articles from The New York Times. Some are about the rise of big business, the emergence of Wall Street, “merger mania,” major business leaders; other articles examine the changing nature of work such as the movement from farm to country and the emergence of labor unions; still others examine the “transportation revolution” (i.e. impact of railroads, the automobile, and commercial flight) and communication breakthroughs such as radio, television, and the Internet. There are at least some photographs a paradigm shift such as one of a Northern Pacific locomotive in 1900 and another in which Henry Ford sits in his car next to a horse and buggy in 1933. However, the bulk of the material consists of narrative text.

The specific entries that caught my eye include (listed in the order in which they appear in the book): “Uncle Sam Now Business World’s Business Man” (November 19, 1882), “Ladies as Stock Speculators” (February 3, 1880), “J.P. Morgan At Seventy, Believes in Keeping At It” (April 14, 1907), “Roosevelt Won’t Drop Trust War” (August 21, 1907), “The Peril Behind the Takeover Boom” (December 29, 1985), “Millionaires of Pittsburg – Twenty Years Ago and Now” (June 2, 1907), “Talking Business with Grove of Intel” (December 23, 1980), “`Neutron Jack’ Exits” (September 9, 2001), “Penned in Factories and No Fire Escapes” (October 12, 1911), he New Boss” (January 30, 2005), “The Wonders of Electricity” (April 4, 1998), “How We Spend Our Time” (April 24, 1937), “Honey, I am Not Home” (May 11, 1997), “Southwest Manages to Keep Its Balance” (September 25, 2001), “Television Effects on Families Shown” (February 5, 1950), and “Mapping Out the Wireless Phone’s Future”( November 12, 1992).

I have included the dates of these entries because many of those who are curious about this book share my interest in articles that reveal what the interests, concerns, issues, etc. were at a given time. Much of what happened a 100 years ago today provided at least some of the “news fit to print” that day so it has an historical significance. In some instances, the same account also suggests a specific stage of development or an emerging trend…or both…as in “Women Who Work Increase in Numbers and Influence” written by R.L. Duffus that appeared in the September 14, 1930, issue and “New Southerner: The Middle-Class Negro” co-authored by Wilma Dykeman an James Stokely that appeared in the August 9, 1959, issue.


Friday, August 12, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lincoln’s Leadership Lessons

Nancy Koehn

Here is an excerpt from a brief but enlightening article written by Nancy Koehn for the Harvard Business blog.

* * *

February is Presidents’ month, and in this frame, it’s a fine time to spend a few hours with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s life and leadership offer rich lessons for managers and indeed all leaders in our own turbulent moment.

Paul Angle’s The Lincoln Reader is a classic in the huge field of writing on the 16th president. But that’s not the most important reason to pick this book up. Open it because it is a great read, comprised of a range of first-hand accounts of Lincoln and narrated in clear, engaging prose. What shines through clearly in these accounts and in Angle’s expert commentary is how Lincoln used the hurdles in his path — failure, loss, confusion, and more — as learning opportunities. They became avenues to deeper insight and confidence in himself and thus important milestones along his leadership journey.

David Donald’s 1995 biography, titled simply Lincoln, is arguably the best single-volume work on the Civil War president in many decades. Donald’s deep knowledge of and care for his subject flow through each page, guiding the reader along the, at times, astounding path that Lincoln walked and examining how his leadership developed during his presidency. Donald’s work is particularly relevant to leaders working in the midst of great uncertainty because he focuses on how Lincoln never lost sight of the larger stage and his own mission as the country’s chief executive on that stage.

In honor of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth last year, the Library of America produced a first-rate anthology of writings about Lincoln. Edited by Harold Holzer, The Lincoln Anthology contains all manner of (concise) observations about Lincoln and his legacy from individuals as varied as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, and Gore Vidal. Their viewpoints are not to be missed, not only because of the diversity of their distinct perspectives on Lincoln’s humanity — how he dressed and spoke and told a joke — but also because the reader comes away from the book with a much clearer sense of a leader’s impact: the shapes this impact takes, its importance in the moment, and its consequences long after a leader finishes his or her work.

* * *

Nancy Koehn is an authority on entrepreneurial history and is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where her research focuses on entrepreneurship and leadership. She is the editor of the book The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times, published by Harvard Business Press in October 2009.

Monday, February 22, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 259 other followers

%d bloggers like this: