Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School wrote in the New York Times about the time she visited the home of Doris Kearns Goodwin and discovered one of Doris’s bookcases filled with 500 books – all on Abraham Lincoln. No small wonder hence that Nohria touted Kearns’ book Team of Rivals about how Lincoln built his leadership team.
That multi-volume record of Lincoln recollection was prompted, she wrote, after her viewing of the new film “Steve Jobs”, based on Walter Isaacson’s biography.
Of Isaacson’s book, she said: “there are very few books like this written and I think it has an effect on the way business leaders manage their enterprises. Most observers attribute a chief executives’ short-term orientation to the pressures of capital markets or the lure of market-based incentive compensation, and I agree these are powerful forces.
But there are also quieter, inner directed, psychological forces that play a role in CEOs managerial myopia.
I believe the outside world’s limited interest in making long-term evaluations of business leaders legacies is one factor that leads them to prioritize the here and now over the long term. Like political leaders, every business leader thinks about – and should think about – his or her legacy. Legacies are not snap judgments. They’re the long term, considered reconciliation of a leaders are cost much and failings.”
Another “here today, gone tomorrow” observation by Nohria: “Once they leave office, even the best known business leaders are quickly forgotten. Last year in my commencement address, I had planned to refer to Lee Iacocca, who wrote a best-selling memoir of the turnaround he led that Chrysler in the mid-1980s. My staff talked me out of it. They argued that today, more than 20 years after his retirement, many MBA students may have no idea who Mr. Iacocca is. It’s a reminder that in business, unlike in the political or national histories, even monumental achievements can be quickly forgotten. Most business schools offer few (if any) courses in business history. ( Harvard Business School has such a course, but it’s an elective instead of a core requirement.) Today many of the brightest MBAs may know little of Thomas Watson or even Andrew Carnegie”.
One Takeaway: a more important leadership legacy quest may not be recorded in books or movies. To me more important is the legacy any executive enjoys as result of creating a workplace where people grew, contributed and thrived. To me, my recollection of several personal career milestones is highlighted by the actions and values of those at the top whom I respected and was pleased to make help them successful.