Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Leadership Genius of Harry Truman, Part IV

When at Work, Work and Work Hard

There wasn’t a lazy bone in Harry Truman’s body. Throughout his life, Truman made the most of every single day. From his years on a farm in Grandview, Missouri, to his “retirement” at the Truman Library (during which he was in the office six days a week), the former president believed that every minute counted, and that one should work while at work.

Effective time management is one of the most important attributes of great leadership. It is impossible for a leader to effectively manage his responsibilities without effectively managing his time – for our lives are lived within the context of time.

In order for one to maximize time usage, it is important that the various activities of life have their proper place. There should be time for work, leisure, family, rest, learning, and a variety of other pursuits. Concentrating on work while at work frees up time for other activities within the 24-hour day.

As was discussed in the first installment in this series, President Truman liked to get an early start to his day. The first order of business was a brisk walk, followed by the reading of several major daily newspapers. After breakfast, Truman could be found at his desk in the Oval Office by 7:00 a.m.

Truman began the workday with a fast-paced meeting with his top advisers. He would come to the meeting with assignment packets for each member of his team. These packets were put together in the president’s study the night before as he meticulously prepared for the next workday. The remainder of the day included a whirlwind of appointments, lunch at 1:00 p.m., then a brief nap in the residence.

Upon waking from his afternoon nap, Truman began what amounted to a second workday, which would last well into the night. In the end, Harry Truman would work from 12 to 18 hours on any given day.

When we think of planning, we usually think of long-term projects, or goals for a new year. However, we should be planning each day, setting aside time for various tasks that can be grouped together and knocked out in a single “chunk” of time. We should work while we are at work, avoiding idle chit chat, web browsing, or other time sinks. Engaging in these types of activities amounts to stealing from our employers as they are paying us to work for them during certain hours of the day.

The Pomodoro Technique, a time management tool, was discussed in an earlier post that may be found here. The idea behind this method of time management is to focus on a single task for a “chunk” of time, allowing for a break after 25 minutes of work. The task list is also of paramount importance and should, along with the calendar, drive the day’s agenda.

Don’t be lazy! Commit to work while at work, leaving more time to spend with the most important people in your life.

Note: You may access the other articles in this series here: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Get Organized!

People consistently cite the need to get organized as one of their resolutions for any new year. It is especially important for leaders to have their act together, so this should be a priority for anyone in such a position.

Dr. Frank Buck of Frank Buck Consulting will be observing National Get Organized Month by including daily "best of" posts throughout January on his blog, Get Organized! . This blog has been in operation for over five years and, although geared toward educational leaders, offers plenty of excellent advice for managers of any team.

I urge you to check out Dr. Buck's blog and get organized in 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Great Leaders - Great Quotes

I hope this collection of inspiring leadership quotes gets your week off to a good start!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Leadership Genius of Harry Truman, Part III

This is the third installment in a series of articles on the leadership traits of Harry S. Truman, former president of the United States. You may read Part I here, and Part II here. Detailed articles of this sort will be a weekly feature on this blog, and several historic leaders will be examined this year.

Part III: Read Voraciously

When President Truman died in December of 1972, archivists at the Truman Library began cataloging his personal library. They were astounded to learn that Truman possessed, and had read, several thousand books. This does not count the books checked out from the Independence Public Library over a lifetime, and those borrowed from the Library of Congress during his Senate term.

Despite poor eyesight, Harry Truman read almost constantly (he claimed to have read every book in the Independence Library by the time he was 18). He also had an uncanny knack for retaining what he read. In his book, Mr. Citizen, Truman recalls that, when faced with a complex decision, he would study a leader from the past who had to make a similar decision. Every night Truman would read about this particular leader just before going to bed. Within just a few days, he would have settled upon his approach to tackling the issue at hand.

Truman became a student of history and a student of great leaders and great people. To be sure, he had a natural interest in this sort of thing. However, he also correctly realized that the past is merely a prelude, and that there are lessons to be learned from important figures throughout history.

During World War I, Truman was a captain in the Army, commanding a field artillery battery made up of unruly young men from the Kansas City area. He whipped the boys into shape using tactics he learned by reading the biography of Civil War general and former President U. S. Grant.

Following the war, former members of Truman’s battery would hang out at his haberdashery in Kansas City, seeking advice from “Captain Harry.” On one occasion, a young former soldier asked Truman for advice on books that every successful man should read. Following is Truman’s recommended reading list:

  1. Plutarch’s Lives
  2. Caesar’s Commentaries
  3. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography
  4. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  5. Bunker Bean
  6. Missouri’s Struggle for Statehood
  7. The Bible
  8. Plato’s Republic
  9. Shakespeare’s works, including the Sonnets
  10. The complete works of Robert Burns
  11. Childe Harold
  12. Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World
  13. Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

It must be pointed out that Harry Truman did not attend college. He applied for the Naval Academy and West Point, but was rejected due to poor eyesight. His personal finances simply did not allow for higher education. However, by examining the above reading recommendations, it is clear that Truman was an educated man, and was well prepared for the challenges that faced him during his White House years.

It was Truman who said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” The average CEO in America reads 4-5 books per month, while the average American reads but one book per year. To be a leader means to be a learner – constantly.

Chances are other people have faced problems much like yours, and chances are much has been written about them and their approach to such difficulties. Very few people ever take advantage of this great repository of knowledge and experience available.

Action Point: Visit your local public library regularly and purposefully become a student of history. You should also begin to build your own personal library as funds allow. If you hold a leadership position, begin a systematic study of great leaders. You will soon see patterns emerge that are common to all great leaders, and you will begin the process of developing your own leadership style. The more you know about history, the better you will be able to determine where to go for specific answers as to how to handle a problem you are facing. The solution has already been discovered, you just need to get into the habit of looking for it.

Note: You can find out of print books at great prices by visiting Abe Books. I have purchased several titles for $1.00 plus shipping.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Make 2010 Your Best Year Yet!

Happy New Year!

Now is the time for resolutions, plans, goals, and good intentions. We all want to improve, and we seem to think about such things when we start out in a new year. However, most people find that their resolutions don't last very long. We eat better, exercise more, get up earlier, organize ourselves - for a few weeks, and then we fall into the same old rut we were in when we ended the old year.

How do we go about making our goals and resolutions happen? Brian Tracy has addressed this topic in this excellent blog post. The trick? Have specific goals, write them down, and set deadlines for completion.

What are some things you want to make happen in 2010?