Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book of the Year

Active, committed, and engaged communities happen when individual citizens decide that it is in their interest to live in empowered communities working cooperatively and respectfully for the common good. These individuals also understand the importance of leadership in its various manifestations. Many of them have walked on Leadership Road and have learned that it can sometimes be a rocky, lonely place.
Like them, I’ve walked some of those challenging stretches of “Leadership Road”. While difficult and humbling, those early experiences were also huge learning opportunities.
Since then, I’ve walked further down that road. I’ve taken some excellent training (“The Art of Leadership”, available at the Hollyhock Institute is superb) and devoured many books on the subject.
I recently completed one of the best books- fiction or non-fiction- that I have ever read, and it is all about leadership in difficult times. The book, titled “Team of Rivals” and written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a history of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
It’s a massive book (750 pages without notes, 880 total) telling the social and political story of America before, during, and after the civil war. Yet for all that scholarly size, I couldn’t put it down.
Why? Ms. Goodwin is that rare breed- a historian who is a both a great researcher and a compelling storyteller. She brilliantly relates how the newly emerging power that was America in the 1800’s ripped itself apart over the divisive issue of slavery.
We learn how a child born on a dirt farm in backwoods Kentucky became a lawyer and then President of the United States. Ms. Goodwin tells how Lincoln guided the Union government to Civil war victory by assembling and leading a cabinet composed of many of his political rivals. The book focuses on the relationships between the members of the war cabinet, both at the political and personal level.
Above all, this is a book about leadership. Within the book, Ms. Goodwin lays out Lincoln’s leadership strategies and skills, and how he was able to manage himself and lead a team of rivals through dangerous and shifting political waters with the nation’s fate at stake.
She highlights the powerful role played by the family members of leaders, and how the pressures of public life impact the families of leaders. Especially interesting is her description of Lincoln’s intuitive understanding of the power of storytelling, and of the coping skills he used to escape the terrible pressures that came with his office.
“Team Of Rivals” is a must-read for anyone contemplating a walk on Leadership Road. While very few of us will ever experience the kind of challenges faced by Abraham Lincoln, all of us who want to live in active, committed and engaged communities will gain from his story. If you read one book this year, make it “Team of Rivals”. It’s a must-read for everyone with an interest in leadership.