Richard Nixon

Most books about leadership tell us what a person ought to do to become effective and powerful. Few tell us what to avoid. But the latter may be even more valuable because many people on the road to success are tripped up by their mistakes and weaknesses.  Nixon’s sins were not his alone. It is troubling that other presidents have committed one or more of them, too. His grievous error was to commit all of them and to do so in a way that put him far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. It amounted to a political suicide. How one wishes he might have exorcised those demons within, to put down that shadow side so that his bright side could emerge triumphant. What a different president he would have become.But he was convinced that only by being tough and often mean could he survive. He thought of himself as a better person than he was commonly understood, which added to his frustration, but he also knew how vengeful he could be. In the flap over the Pentagon Papers, he told his cabinet, “I get a lot of advice on PR and personality and how I’ve got to put on my nice-guy hat and dance at the White House, so I did it, but let me make it clear that’s not my nature.”

As complex as he was, Nixon left behind some simple lessons about leadership. It isn’t hard to see how a man of incredible strengths could climb to the mountaintop, nor how a man of his glaring weaknesses could tumble into the valley. The challenge for future leaders is to learn equally well from both adventures. (Excerpted from Eyewitness to Power)

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