I remember the cover from Sports Illustrated a few weeks into NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s attempt in training camp to play major league baseball. The title was “Bag it Michael.” It infuriated him so much that he never gave the magazine another interview.
The stimulus for my recollection was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Tedium is the Message” by Michael Moynihan (December 10-11, 2011, p. C6). In the aricle, he talks about some pooliticians who have penned novels. He includes examples from William Cohen, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, and Newt Gingrich.
Perhaps more than others, Cohen and Gingrich have done so with ”a desire to use the novel to write ideological history.” Cohen’s newest novel (Blink of an Eye, Forge, 2011) teaches a lesson that illustrates his own moral opposition to the war in Iraq. Gingrich’s 2008 novel, Days of Infamy (co-authored with William Forstchen; Thomas Dunne Books), touts isolationism in the context of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Surprisingly omitted from the article, or perhaps simply forgotten, was a novel by former and disgraced vice-president Spiro T. Agnew. In 1976, he wrote The Canfield Decision (Berkley Medallion Books) about a wealthy, handsome, and liberal vice-president who decided to provide Isreal with nuclear arms. How many of those counts described himself?
Moynihan’s conclusion is that “politicians turn to writing novels to create braver, smarter, more powerful versions of themselves. Insisting that you’ve figured how the world works is somehow less pompous – and more easily disavowed – when done by a fictional doppelganger.”
I am unimpressed with these enterprises. Writing novels as purposeful scapegoating activity that replaces solid, visionary thinking and planning seems as if it would fool no one. In the Republican presidential candidate debates, maybe someone will remind Gingrich that he seeks to govern a non-fiction world, and that he cannot craft world affairs in the same way that he can words from the English language.
And, if they are just having fun, maybe to make a little money – that’s fine. But, is that the best use of an aspiring politician’s time and energy? Do we really want to learn what a candidate thinks and how he might govern by reading fictional accounts? Does anyone get insight into future behavior this way?
What do you think? Let’s talk about it really soon!
Xenophon (430-354 BC)
What would be your choice?
In The Practice of Management, published in 1954, Peter Drucker wrote: “The first systematic book on leadership is the Kyropaidaia of Xenophon – himself no mean leader of men – and it is still the best book on the subject.” Xenophon also wrote Anabasis (commonly known as The Persian Expedition) in which he explains how, in the fourth century B.C., he and others in a Greek army of 10,000 they fought their way back to the Black Sea against overwhelming odds.
In Drucker on Leadership, William Cohen explains that after being selected to be the commanding general, Xenophon selected and then summoned subordinate generals, instructing them on leadership. Here are the basic principles, first articulated almost 4,500 years ago:
1. Leaders must set the example in terms of both attitude and behavior. They must be the first to do the most difficult and most unpleasant work.
2. Leaders need to be more courageous than those who follow them. This is especially important when in harm’s way and specific perils are unknown.
3. Leaders must be in total self-control and exercise firm discipline fairly and consistently. They expect outstanding results.
4. Leaders train others to think in terms of actions each must take that will achieve success. Help them to “see” the benefits to them.
Cohen also offers a “distillation” of all of Drucker’s thoughts about leadership from an abundance of resources. He provides a model suggesting the five basic components of effective leadership:
• Strategic planning by the leader as the foundation
• Business ethics and personal integrity as necessary conditions
• Leadership as taught in the military as a baseline model
• Correct perception and application of the psychological principles of motivation
• The marketing model as the general approach
In my review of Cohen’s book, I briefly discuss these five components.
What do you think is the best book on leadership?