The Idea Grove blog is not a history site. But our most popular post -- with more than 500,000 visitors to date -- happens to be called “The 10 Greatest Countries in the History of the World." As a result of COVID-19, I am also home-schooling my kids in U.S. and European history for an hour each day.
In my last post, I wrote about what we can learn from the best days in U.S. history. Today, we'll explore four lessons in leadership I have learned while teaching European history to my kids:
- Be worthy of trust. "She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island," Pope Sixtus V said of Queen Elizabeth I in 1585, "and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by all.” Despite England being a weak power and women considered inferior rulers at the time, Elizabeth showed remarkable leadership over her 45-year reign. Unlike her predecessors, she understood that monarchs ruled by popular consent. She earned the trust of her advisers and the love of her subjects by trusting and loving them in turn -- and in the process, led England into its golden age.
- Challenge your beliefs. Did you know that Napoleon wasn’t actually short? He was about the average height for his time. But a British cartoonist’s caricatures of the French leader in the early 1800s held such sway that they have influenced our perspectives to this day. Too often as leaders, we believe the things we want to believe, because it’s easier than facing the truth. It’s easier to exaggerate our competitors’ weaknesses, for example, than to acknowledge their strengths and examine our own weaknesses in order to get better.
- Innovate during times of crisis. The Black Death is estimated to have killed up to 60 percent of Europe’s population in the 14th century. But it also led to innovations that moved the continent forward. Workers were fewer and used this leverage to win new rights as laborers. Feudalism declined and a middle class emerged. Emerging thinkers challenged traditional views of the church, leading to humanism and the Protestant Reformation. In every crisis there are opportunities to learn and improve. That’s true for businesses and their leaders, too. This is why the best leaders view the current COVID-19 pandemic through a lens of creativity, not panic.
- Balance being loved and feared. At a time of constant conflict among Italian city-states, Machiavelli proclaimed in 1513 that “it is much safer to be feared than loved, because love is preserved by the link of obligation which is broken at every opportunity; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” Today, a business leader does not have to choose between being loved and being feared. The best leaders start with compassion and empathy toward all, but put transparent systems in place for evaluating performance. Employees never have to fear an angry or impulsive leader in a fair but firm system of management. At Idea Grove, we use the methodology for evaluating team members outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman. We sit down with each employee regularly to discuss how they are doing based on Wickman's model. It’s management that demands accountability, but with less emotion and fewer surprises.