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"Real power for leaders lies in giving away the unimportant stuff." So says author and leadership researcher Nancy Koehn, who in looking at history's most accomplished individuals, has found that perfection and success don't necessarily go hand in hand. Leaders must focus their energies on just a few core goals, says Koehn. To make her point, she takes lessons from the lives of President Abraham Lincoln, environmentalist Rachel Carson, abolitionist Frederick Douglas, pastor and would-be Hitler assassin Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and explorer Ernest Shackleton. Nancy Koehn is the author of Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Time .Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/nancy-koehn-focus-simplicity-integrity-how-historys-greatest-leaders-achieved-successFollow Big Think here:YouTube: http://goo.gl/CPTsV5Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BigThinkdotcomTwitter: https://twitter.com/bigthinkTranscript: One of the really interesting corollaries thats part of many of these stories, the corollaries of focusand these are the stories of Ernest Shackleton the explorer, the U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, the famous African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a very important resistor to Hitler in Nazi Germany Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the environmental activist Rachel Carsonis that each of them discover that focus is not only a way of bringing out their best possibilities, their greatest power as leaders, its also a way of conceding what isnt important and giving away all of that stuff.So let me give you a really interesting example.In the early 1850s, Lincoln gives a law lecture to a bunch of aspiring lawyers. And he says, 'Look, I learned the hard way that if I could swing a jury to my side on the one or two or three critical issues that really matter to the case, I could simply give away everything else to my opponent. I could give away this point, then I could give away this point, then I could give away this point, and then I could give away this point, because I only needed to hold on to those one, two, or three issues. And by doing so I could (1) disarm the opposition, (2) keep the jury very focused on where they needed to be focused, and (3) claim all that I needed and nothing more for a judicial victory.And I think that is just a great lesson writ large for our moment.We have so many leaders right now, and so many of us want at some emotional level to have all the victories, to get all the goodies, to be perfect on every front.And each of these people learn that real power for leaders lies in giving away the unimportant stuff, in recognizing whats a small or unimportant victory and joyfully handing it to someone elseincluding ones opponent.And that in the doing of that, not only does one hold on to what really matters, one masters oneself enough not to need to have victory on every single front all the time.And there is great power and great self-knowledge in the doing of that that create on the outside a kind of confidence that people are very much attracted to and motivated by.One of the things that each of these people learnand I think is particularly relevant todayis the importance of focusing on one or two or even threebut its never more than three, its one or two, maybe three, never morethings at a time.Why is it so important that leaders today, as in these stories, learn the emotional discipline, learn the fearsome, ineluctable logic of only focusing on a few things? Its so important because first: there are a number of things every day that only a leader can do.Every time we say "no" to those three critical thingsone, two, or threeand say "yes" to the Twitter announcement that just dinged on our phone, say "yes" to the email notification that just came throughwe have 12 unanswered emails in the last ten minutessay "yes" to the person, the Doubting Thomas in our office who wants to tell you why things are wrong and can never be rightEvery time we say "yes" to all those things were saying no to the things that only we as leaders in our respective paths can do.And so we are saying "no" to moving the mission forward, even if its just a few inches in this moment! And that is really important right now when in so many ways Rome is burning around us.And leaders of all kinds of walks of life, of all kinds of stripes and sizes have so many things coming at them that are not critical.So the first reason is: a leader can only do certain things, and a leader owes it to himself or herself, his mission, his followers, the larger global village, to keep on focusing on those things. Thats the first reason.The second reason its really critical is if we dont work all by ourselves we have to be able to delegate to others.The act of delegation is an act of empowerment. Its an act of trust. Its an act of sharing.
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