Not all of our mentors have to be here in the room, having lunch or networking with us. If we are open to learning, we can find mentors anywhere, even in history. This Presidents’ Week, we thought we would get a little mentoring from some past US Presidents. Turns out they have a lot to teach us about leadership.

Team Building

Abraham Lincoln is well-known for creating a “team of rivals,” making sure that not everyone around him agreed with him. Instead of choosing those he knew shared his views, he chose the very best in their field, whether they agreed with him or not. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in some of those cabinet meetings, but there is no doubt that there was some great brainstorming going on in the Lincoln White House.

“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” –Abraham Lincoln

Taking Risks

I’m sure there are Presidents who didn’t take many risks, but funny, I can’t remember which. Whether in bold initiatives, controversial foreign policy or changing the direction of the country, real leaders are memorable for what they try to do, what they are passionate about, what they make others want to join them in trying to accomplish. Playing it safe is not on their list of qualities.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …” 

–Theodore Roosevelt

Being Present

With important and sometimes lifechanging decisions to be made at any moment, Presidents have needed to be able to focus on what is going on right now, deal with it, and move on to the next thing. Leaders are fully present, listening, processing and making choices. Right now, I feel lucky that the choices I have to make are not life or death.

“Come now, let us reason together.” –Lyndon Johnson

Never Giving Up

Throughout history, some people have run around saying “It can’t be done! It will be the end of the world! Too much too fast! We’re not ready!” Great leaders don’t pay attention to naysayers or the fearful. Change is inevitable, though often uncomfortable. Some will always need to be gentled into it, but leaders are right up front, ready and willing–and persistent.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” 

–John F. Kennedy

Leadership is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But when the risks are worthy, when decisions are made with intelligence and expert advice, when the moment is right and we are determined, we can be leaders that everyone will remember.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” –John Quincy Adams

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative