As a 22-year-old college student, future U.S. president Lyndon Johnson had already developed a natural, gregarious speaking style. In an impromptu setting, he could connect to an audience with enthusiasm and leave a lasting impression. However, when forced to speak formally later in his political career, this natural skill deserted him, leaving audiences listless and unimpressed.
He initially mitigated this deficit by creating rallies that mimicked his more successful stump speeches and energized his speaking style. However, he simultaneously honed his messages, so he could give an impassioned delivery no matter the setting.
This skill became critical when Johnson addressed the nation on November 27, 1963. Johnson honored the slain former president, John F. Kennedy, while laying out a clear agenda to carry on Kennedy’s legacy. In her new book Leadership in Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes: “Through a single speech, delivered to a nation still in mourning, Lyndon Johnson bridged what seemed an impossible span. He had seized the reins of power and established a shared sense of direction and purpose for his sudden presidency.”
The ability to recognize and address shortcomings is a common trait in visionary leaders, notes Goodwin. “More important than what happened to them was how they responded to these reversals, how they managed in various ways to put themselves back together, how these watershed experiences at first impeded, then deepened, and finally and decisively molded their leadership.”
Goodwin tells similar stories of a young Abraham Lincoln, who, recognizing his subpar writing skills, hiked six miles to obtain the only grammar textbook in the area. He worked to develop a clear writing style that would serve him throughout his political career.
Young Theodore Roosevelt recognized a need to strengthen his body. Plagued by chronic asthma and frequent illness, he used a backyard gymnasium to grow into a leader who energized the nation with his love of outdoor adventuring.
Franklin Roosevelt had neither soaring intellect nor physical prowess. He made up for both with hard work. His ascent to editor-in-chief of Harvard’s student newspaper took years of dogged effort. The benefit of hard work became obvious on the campaign trail, where he became known for an energy and charm that delighted constituents.
Security professionals may not face presidential levels of adversity, but they must be similarly resilient in the face of challenges. This month’s cover story by Senior Editor Mark Tarallo addresses self-management. By scrutinizing their own shortcomings, managers can more quickly overcome them.
“But if self-knowledge requires great effort to attain, the results will be worth it….It will ultimately allow managers to maximize their strengths, minimize their shortcomings, and modify their responses and behaviors, all for the cause of becoming more effective leaders,” Tarallo notes.