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Leadership: Kick Back and Relax

The ability to relax! That’s what presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, advises as a necessary attribute of presidential leadership. Kearns, who consults for NBC and was speaking on Tim Russert’s CNBC show, presented a list of attributes that she feels are important to presidential leadership. Withstanding adversity, decisiveness, and selection of good advisers are key, but so is the ability to kick back.

The ability to relax! That’s what presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, advises as a necessary attribute of presidential leadership. Kearns, who consults for NBC and was speaking on Tim Russert’s CNBC show, presented a list of attributes that she feels are important to presidential leadership. Withstanding adversity, decisiveness, and selection of good advisers are key, but so is the ability to kick back.

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Teddy Roosevelt loved to hunt and camp. Harry Truman played poker. John Kennedy sailed. And Ronald Reagan cut brush on his ranch. In each instance, these activities allow the president to disengage from the hurly-burly and to recharge his batteries but also to gain perspective on the issues of the day.

Corporate leaders are famous for relaxation. Scott McNealy of Sun is a scratch golfer. Ted Turner was a world-class sailor who won the America’s Cup. And a friend of mine, Dan Denison, races Formula Ford cars, and his company, Denison Consulting has its own racing team. Other execs fly planes or play tennis. And Ted Kooser, poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, was a successful insurance executive who wrote poetry on the side.

In our world of 24/7 the ability to check the mind at the door and pursue something completely different is vital. Here are some ways to ensure that you the time you need to do what’s good for yourself.

Switch off the mind when you leave work. Get out of the office, yes, but when you do, shut down the mind – at least about work issues. This can be difficult with 24/7 electronic access and managing across multiple time zones, but as much as we’ve improved communications technology we have not improved the capacity of the brain to work and to handle stress. That requires an ability to shut things off.

Find an outlet. Having a hobby is a joy. For me it’s golf. Mundane for some, of course, but I love the simple pleasure of striking a ball and watching it sail higher and higher, hopefully toward its intended target. If it doesn’t I try again. Others love to boat and to fish, or patronize the theatre and the concert halls. Many folks are musicians. Presidential spokesman, Tony Snow, plays a mean flute for a D.C. rock band comprised of fellow professionals.

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Enjoy your friends and family. The greatest joy for many is family. Many folks I know coach their kids in sports or extracurricular activities like the visual arts and the theater. There is profound joy in watching your child grow and develop as well as learn life lessons like coping with difficulties. Friends are companions who offer unbridled points of view and enjoy your company for who you are not what your title says you are.

Ironically doing these things will often make you a better performer, one who is engaged when work is to be done and full of ideas about how to make things better. You may also find yourself more creative as well as more centered in work and in life.

Of course relaxation does not guarantee success. President George W. Bush exercises regularly and is known for taking long, long vacations. His presidency has been less than successful. By contrast, Bill Clinton took an annual vacation but those getaways always seemed forced. Nevertheless, his presidency by comparison to the current one looks pretty good.

Kearns points out another attribute of relaxation – a good sense of humor. Abraham Lincoln was a legendary raconteur and great humorist. Franklin Roosevelt, crippled by polio, enjoyed mixing cocktails for his daily happy hour with close associates. Both were wartime presidents who faced troubles included regular casualty reports, yet even in the most trying times, both presidents made time for lighter stuff. Neither was being callous; they were simply finding ways to be human in inhuman times. That’s pretty good advice for any leader in any position.

Source: “Interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin” Tim Russert CNBC 7.28.07

John Baldoni • Leadership Expert: Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • www.johnbaldoni.com

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