Byron's Babbles

Complex & Different

Posted in Ambition, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 11, 2020

06282019_caro_1I just finished reading the entire The Years of Lyndon Johnson series by Robert A. Caro. The four books (Caro is presently working on the fifth and final volume) in the series are:

  1. The Path to Power
  2. Means of Ascent
  3. Master of the Senate
  4. The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power ends in 1964 after the transfer of power to President Johnson following the assassination of President Kennedy. During the first few days, weeks, and months of that transition, Johnson got a lot accomplished – civil rights bill and a tax cut bill. Caro discussed how we saw leadership traits in Johnson during this short period of time during the transfer of the Presidency that we had not seen before that enabled him to keep almost all the Kennedy Cabinet in place; making it possible to get major legislation passed that it had been doubtful if President Kennedy would be able to get passed. At the end of The Passage of Power Caro said that we saw good and caring leadership traits in Johnson during the first days, weeks, and months of his Presidency that had been subordinated by other less complimentary traits. Then, later in his Presidency we saw those less complimentary traits come back. Caro shared that Lyndon Johnson once said about himself: “I’m just like a fox. I can see the jugular in any man and go for it.” While he was ruthless, he did have a plan.

Leadership is the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants – a human and social achievement that stems from the leader’s understanding of his or her fellow workers and the relationship of their individual goals to the group’s aim. W.C.H. Prentice argued in 1961 (during Lyndon Johnson times) that leaders needed to learn two basic lessons:

  1. People are complex
  2. People are different

This argument is reinforced by all the characters in The Life of Lyndon Johnson series. W.C.H. Prentice continued to posit that by responding to such individual patterns, the leader will be able to create genuinely intrinsic interest in the work. He completely rejected the notion that leadership is the exercise of power or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Now, fifty-nine years later, we know that leadership is about influence and the ability to empower others and help others to learn and grow.

Caro wrote this biography series with the intent to study power as opposed to just the man: Lyndon B. Johnson. Much of what drove Johnson was his ambition which most of the time seemed to overpower his purpose. He also had an uncontrollable fear of failure and losing. These fears cost him the 1964 Presidential nomination because he was scared to declare he was even running because of the fear he might lose. By the time he declared it was too late. We now recognize how important purpose is to leadership. Leadership then becomes the accomplishment of goals with the assistance of the human element. In 1961 Prentice also taught us that leaders successfully marshal their human collaborators to achieve particular ends.

This study of power by Caro, caused me to think that most of the time Johnson was exercising power as opposed to exhibiting leadership prowess. The paradox is, however, that he was achieving particular ends. I wonder if W.C.H. Prentice studied or thought about Lyndon Johnson at the time he was forming thoughts about leadership? Once Johnson received the ultimate power he had lusted all those those years, he did, according to Caro, have a plan. He used his power for improving what he called the Great Society and championing civil rights. As with all humans, Johnson was complex and different. He did some great things as well as really terrible things. Caro taught us that biography gives of the ability to study all of the traits that are Lyndon B. Johnson.

 

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