Let’s flash back to a simpler year. I don’t want to date myself, so think circa 1990s. I remember sitting with my now husband watching Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball when I was first introduced to Doris Kearns Goodwin. She didn’t just know baseball – it was part of her DNA. She was smart, funny and a storyteller. I became a fan that day, and only came to adore her more as I read her books and learned about her rich history with American politics.
Now, fast forward to this November when I had the (once in a lifetime) opportunity to speak with her during a SAS Global Forum Fireside Chat. As a longtime follower of her Pulitzer Prize-winning work, you can imagine my excitement! And, it was everything I thought it would be, and more.
The theme of the talk was “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” Leaders around the world are grappling with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – faced with reimagining the future and leading their organizations beyond this crisis. And, Doris brings a unique perspective, having studied great presidents throughout history who persevered and triumphed during turbulent eras. Our talk also coincided with the US election, compounding divisive and polarizing feelings during an already challenging year.
But, we didn’t just cover heavy topics. We also discussed everything from Doris’ experience spending the night in the White House to our mutual love of baseball (Go, Red Sox!).
Here are three valuable lessons we can all learn from Doris, both professional and personal:
Unite people under a common goal
Regardless of differing opinions, for a leader to truly lead successfully, he or she must first unite those they are leading under a common goal. Division is the ultimate enemy of success, and effective leadership cannot take place if people are unable to communicate or share passions. Doris shared a quote from President Teddy Roosevelt: “The greatest threat to democracy is when people in different sections, classes or regions begin regarding people as the ‘other’ rather than common American citizens.”
I believe that as a leader, you set the tone for how your team will work – especially during times of disruption. When COVID-19 first hit, we reviewed our entire marketing strategy through this new lens, and rallied as a team to pivot our business. Our customers faced substantial impact from the virus, and it became critical for us to unite under a common goal to support them. Our priorities became finding meaningful solutions to the problems they were facing, and communicating with empathy and compassion – as one team with one voice.
Cultivate the powers and passions of those you lead
Abraham Lincoln claims the success of the Civil War cannot be attributed solely to his presidency, but to the efforts of those with unstoppable passions and a willingness to work together under a common goal. These sentiments hold true today. As leaders, it’s not our actions alone that elicit change, but the actions of the people we’re leading. They have the power to make your dreams happen – or not.
At SAS, we invested in a training program, Lifelong Learning for Marketers, which gives our employees the tools and training they need to unlock their growth. I also outlined eight core traits I believe today’s, and tomorrow’s, marketer needs to be successful – including having a growth mindset and being analytically curious. I believe that if you invest in your team and ignite their passions, you’ll work toward greatness and achieve your vision.As leaders, it’s not our actions alone that elicit change, but the actions of the people we’re leading. Click To Tweet
Relax and replenish
Lincoln loved to go to the theatre. Theodore Roosevelt exercised. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a cocktail party every night with one rule – no conversation about the war. This year, drawing boundaries between work life and home life is challenging. To lead successfully, it’s important to make time to do something you love every day and use this time to think, de-stress and quiet your mind.
While I love the idea of holding a cocktail party every night, I’ve found a few ways to replenish that work best for me. First and foremost, spending time with my family. We are a household of sports fans, and love to watch baseball and soccer together (cue another Ted Lasso marathon). I am also an avid reader and have a bookshelf stocked with novels upon novels. I recommend checking out “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” – it’s written by Doris herself and is one of Dr. Goodnight’s favorites.
Doris shared many valuable insights during our talk, and she ended with a note about optimism. She quoted Franklin Roosevelt as saying, “Problems created by man can be solved by man.” As an optimist at heart, this is truly inspiring. We must all remember to pivot in the face of adversity, prioritize innovative ideas, embrace diverse perspectives and ultimately achieve resilience. We are stronger than we think.