With all the ink being spilled about the upcoming presidential election, it’s not surprising that leadership qualities are sparking lots of attention. Allen Guelzo, the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, wrote a pithy article about the traits we should be looking for as we evaluate the candidates bobbing up and down on our TV screens. Each of the five qualities that Allen identified: understanding, mastery, the conversion of liabilities into assets, a love of nuts-and-bolts, and persistence are equally critical for us as writers:
Understanding: Every senior officer in Horatio Nelson’s Royal Navy began as a midshipman, learning every knot just as ordinary seamen did. Horatio’s adversaries were aristocrats with little practical experience. Little wonder he beat them! Gifted writers are always curious about the world and how it works.
Mastery: A leader has mastered “the pulse and flow of responsibility among the segments of a government as instinctively as a hunter estimates the range and speed of his target,” observes Allen Guelzo. To truly shine as writers, commitment to mastering our craft is key.
Converting liabilities into assets: Abraham Lincoln was often dismissed as homely and homespun, a “rube” without much polish or learning. Rather than brooding on the image he projected, Lincoln turned it into a winning strategy, consistently letting his opponents underestimate him and then leading them neatly into traps. We all have weaknesses we can leverage — often we, too, can turn these into strengths in our writing.
Joy in the nuts-and-bolts: Great leaders throughout history have found pleasure in the everyday aspects of their work says Guelzo. Take Winston Churchill: he organized his sleeping hours into two parts so that he could “press a day and a half’s work into one.” As writers, enjoying the details of our calling is one of the keys to success.
Persistence: By this, Guelzo means, not merely stubbornness, “but a determination based on the ability to foresee the likely long-term results of decisions. Lincoln’s enormous resilience, his strength in staying the course, no matter what setbacks he encountered have made him a president for the ages. For us as writers, persistence in the face of setbacks is surely the biggest must-have of all.
Just think: We’re not just writers, we’re leadership mavens!