As you grow as a leader, there are many lessons to learn from those before you. Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Doris Kearns Goodwin hit home for me and I couldn’t take notes fast enough. Here are my takeaways from The Life Lessons and Success Habits of Four Presidents:
1. Surround yourself with people who don’t agree with you like Abraham Lincoln did. Encourage your team members to question your assumptions, to come up with ideas to make your ideas better, and to feel comfortable doing so. Saying “this is an idea I have, but feel free to poke holes in it to make it better” welcomes criticism in a positive way.
2. Celebrate the small successes like FDR did. Don’t wait to pat your team on the back until you finish your big project or hit the final goal. Let them know each step of the way that they are valued and that you appreciate their efforts. Be specific in your feedback and always praise the behavior you want to see.
3. Overcome procrastination like Teddy Roosevelt did. Take on the most important work early in your day, or when you have the most energy. Set a timetable to get that work done. Sometimes just getting started is enough. Spend the first few minutes of every day and write down the three most important things you will accomplish that day.
4. Don’t wait to almost die before you realize that wealth and power isn’t everything like LBJ did. Look back on your day everyday and write down the one thing you did that was important to building your team, or that helped your organization get one step closer to your vision. Your position as a leader is to communicate, listen and be a role model.
5. Carve out time for relaxation like they all did. If you’re on email late at night, or over the weekend, you never give your brain a chance to recharge. By giving yourself a true break from work, you’ll be amazed at the good ideas that will pop into your head. And when they do, put them in a journal, or in a note on your phone so you can get back to relaxing.
I honestly had not paid attention to any of these leaders since high school. Their abilities to overcome adversity, stay positive in the darkest of times, and never give up are lessons for leaders just like you and me.