The Temperament to Lead


Henry Hannah looked like a combination of Popeye and Broderick Crawford, a movie and television star of the 1950’s. Grizzled, never clean-shaven, Henry had perfected the WPA lean; where a shovel becomes a resting post. Probably born shortly after 1910, he struggled through the Great Depression, prospered somewhat during World War II and fighting alcoholism, made a living for the rest of his life.

I first met Henry, and others like him, when I was working on a roofing crew in high school. They were quick-tempered when it came to some matters but on the whole little could bother them. Suffering through the depression, they were glad to have a job: their skin was thick; and when it came to careless comments, they were not about to up and quit. Hunger, out of work and war, Henry and his generation had known real problems. They knew the difference between annoyances and crisis. No thought police were needed to keep their feelings from being hurt; their psyches were resilient and strong.

To many in our spoiled society, what should be annoyances are major problems. To oversensitive segments of the population, an innocent remark may be considered a great insult. In our lenient and transitory culture, with the slightest provocation, people are willing to abandon jobs and even relationships.

The time and energy we spend dealing with minor concerns distracts us from dealing with difficult situations that require our attention. As in life, in business we have to learn to discern between annoyances and real problems. Great leaders have “thick-skins” and know when to let annoyances slide; they know how to identify real problems and they understand the necessity of hiding their impatience and holding their tempers. Great leaders do not allow slights, problems or mistakes to destroy relationships.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, JEB Stuart was out of touch with Robert E. Lee when the general needed the “eyes” of his cavalry the most. After dressing Stuart down, Lee commented, “General Stuart, let us never mention this incident again.” Lee was unwilling to sacrifice one of his best cavalry officers over a single error in judgment.

You may have the technical skills and knowledge necessary but to excel in what you do, you must also have the temperament to lead. You should be quick to praise, slow to react and allow that people will be guilty of mistakes and make insensitive remarks.

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