Former Congressman Lee Hamilton met with 39 young leaders from the Middle East and North Africa over the summer as part of the Global Leadership and Innovation (GLI) program. He gave candid remarks on his career in Congress and the key components of leadership before answering a wide range of student questions about U.S. policy with poignant examples. Hamilton focused on his expertise, politics, but much of his advice applies to any organization, public or private, and any individual – student, team leader, bureaucrat, CEO, or anyone wanting to do more.
The concepts that Congressman Hamilton discusses in this video – respect, dignity, consensus, character – are indeed needed in the current political climate, both in the United States and around the world. Abraham Lincoln led a team of rivals in his cabinet, an effort in bipartisanship unparalleled in the polarized political climate today. George Washington was not a great speaker or the smartest person in a room, but he had impeccable character and earned respect by treating others with dignity. Reverend Jesse Jackson motivated others to keep hope alive where many thought solutions were not possible. Mikhail Gorbachev had the self-confidence to want to be a leader in every group throughout his life.
But it’s important to remember that Hamilton’s advice and examples extend beyond the political sphere. NGOs, MNCs, small businesses, CEOs, community organizers, educators, and students can all apply these concepts in real life situations, business or personal, public or private, toward encouraging great leadership on a global scale. Hamilton at one point says, “If you don’t have leadership, things don’t happen.” In a fast-paced world where challenges and opportunities are ever-present, every organization needs a strong leader to move forward. But that leadership must emanate from others. In politics, leaders must be respected by constituents. In business, these are stakeholders. Leaders do not become leaders or provide good leadership going alone. It’s just as important to be humble and recognize others, building consensus among peers toward providing solutions to problems.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of leadership, beyond persuasiveness, vision, confidence, and decisiveness, is what Hamilton refers to as animal energy. Hamilton, a man of great energy himself, gives an example of accompanying former President Bill Clinton on a series of meetings throughout a day in Panama. On the flight home, while Hamilton wanted to sleep after a long day, Clinton paced about the plane looking for someone further engage. The Clinton example shows that leaders must operate with remarkable pace and drive to make progress. Even with this drive, though, good leaders must find others to take along the way.