The Ten Lessons of Political Greatness


The Soul of a Leader by Waller Newell was a great book... long, detailed... but highly readable and more - VERY GOOD. The final pages of his book summarize the Ten Lessons of Political Greatness. After a long tour through modern American Presidents, then a visit to Lincoln and Napoleon, followed by a look at the ancient Greek democracies, Waller Newell gives his summary. I hope these have at least some power for you who probably have not read his book. Here they are with little or no explanation.

1.  Character trumps brains, or at least formal education.

2.  Inspiring rhetoric is necessary, but only in moderation.

3.  Moral conviction is necessary - but only in moderation.
This is the hardest one, especially to understand without the context he provides. "As Machiavellis says, A man who tries to be good at all times will necessarily come to ruin in a world where most people are not good." At times the lesser of evils must be chosen as the way forward. At other times, the END justifies the means, means that in some situations leaders must act in ways that would normally be frowned on. Such is the challenge of political leadership. Which is why some Chrsitian traditions say these roles must be avoided on the part of disciples of Jesus.

4.  A leader embodies the times.
A leader is a symbol, a story that says - "this is who we are." Therefore, the masses identify with her or him.

5.  A leader must have two or three goals and not try to do too much.
This is why the truly great leaders had long careers before they ascended to the highest offices of power. They had already worked out their deepest themes.

6.  Time will run out.
You will not finish what you start. You will fall short. You will quite possibly "wear out."

7.  History chooses its leaders.
Which is why Churchill chose to write the history books... so he would be the winner. By the way, almost no great leader leaves office with high popularity.

8.  A great leader wants power - but not too badly.
A powerful lesson throughout this book. Political ambition is vital and necessary, but it must be held in appropriate check

9.  Greatness can turn out to be villainy.
Charisma does have a dark side.

. . . and the last lesson is the hardest . . .

10.  The great leader must be prepared to ignore all of what was said above.
Great leaders LEAD. They adjust, they adapt, they change. They do not stay the same. 


Brian K. Rice
Leadership  ConneXtions International

BrianRice@lcileaders.org