I recently attended the World Business Forum held in New York City. One of the speakers, Nancy Koehn, historian at the Harvard Business School, conducted a presentation entitled Stories of Drive, Complexity and Success. She provided insight into the life of Abraham Lincoln and how he became a visionary and transformational leader through self-discipline, life-long learning and forbearance. I’d like to share the highlights of her presentation, interwoven with some of my thoughts, to help you assess your own leadership style and practices to prepare yourself for the “new normal” of living in a complex world filled with change and uncertainty.
The leader’s new paradigm:

  • Turbulence is the new normal – the old “normal” is not coming back.
  • Transform Information, knowledge and understanding into wisdom. We need wise leaders not just smart ones.
  • Leaders are made not born and they become better and stronger by:
    • Knowing their strengths and weaknesses.
    • Being in situations that demand they lead and not follow or defer.
    • Embracing the challenge of leadership and learning new skills.
    • Applying Lincoln’s mindset – “Life is a continuous learning process”.
    • Getting out of the office and into the field.


  • Being patient and tolerant, demonstrate self-control especially when provoked and refraining from action even when you could do or say something.
  • Don’t hit send. Save a draft and sleep on it.
  • Keep friends close and enemies closer.I’d rather have the guy inside my tent pissing out, rather than outside my tent, pissing in”. – Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Frame the stakes of the management and mission for your people.
  • Listen carefully, gathering input from a wide range of sources.
  • Don’t forget all eyes are on you all the time. Show up as your best self, acting in service to your mission and values.

Most of these points are not new and you will certainly have heard them if you are a student of life and a leader who is committed to improvement. Perhaps one or more of them will make you reflect on where you are, where you are going and how you will get there in terms of your leadership practices and skills.
I leave you with one last thought that Nancy Koehn challenged everyone with. We need leaders who are not afraid to flex their moral muscles and do the right thing. What about you?