Here are some other highlights from the Nixon and Ford sections, and I might write more about the Reagan and Clinton chapters later:
- Nixon lost his first bid for the Presidency to Kennedy in 1960 and spent 8 years sort of 'wandering' before winning the 1968 election. Gergen writes, "...the Nixon story does underscore an important lesson: years in the wilderness may appear to be a sure path to oblivion, but, if seized upon as an opportunity for personal growth, can actually become a springboard to serious leadership." (p.38)
- "It is surprising that few politicians appreciate how much a capacity to speak knowledgeably from history can enhance the stature of a leader." (p43)
- "'The first act of a leader is to define reality' Max Dupree has written. 'The last is to say thank you.'" (p. 50)
- "Far more than any president I have known since, Nixon thought that a role of a leader is to train his own team." (p.55)
- "[Nixon's] quality that I most admire...was his capacity to look out from the mountaintop, foresee the trend lines of the world's future, and bend history to serve American interests...Leaders are often those who see fresh, historic opportunities and seize them, even at the expense of their own consistency." (p.56-59)
- Gergen has an extensive conversation about Nixon's downfall, including the internal battle that he saw with the President. He concludes this way: "Ultimately, his dark side did him in. Nixon's downfall was living proof of a cardinal rule: leadership starts from within....But the mark of an effective leader is one who absorbs the punishment without surrendering his soul." (p. 78-81)
- I found the discussion of President Ford's pardon of Nixon to be one of the most enlightening leadership lessons ever. Gergen effectively argues that Ford was right do issue the pardon - that it was the only choice he had. He gives good reason to believe that it was right for the nation and for his own leadership. But he shows that the communication and process was poor enough to cost him the trust of the people. In my own words, Gergen helped me to see that there are 3 dimensions to good decisions. Previously, I thought that you needed to do the right thing for the right reason. Now I see that a great leader needs to do the right thing for the right reason in the right way in order to reach maximum effectiveness. (or cause minimal harm).
That's enough to digest for the moment. Again, I might write more about Reagan and Clinton later.