Leaders: Profiles and Reminiscences of Men Who Have Shaped the Modern World, by Richard Nixon (Warner Books, 1982, 416 pages)

When Richard Nixon wrote Leaders in 1982, he was eight years into his political exile. One can only imagine the discussion between the publisher and the former president who had resigned rather than face impeachment–the first president ever to do so. He was still considered persona non-grata in so many circles, so having the audacity to write a book about leadership might seem hypocritical. Apparently fearless of any potential criticism, Nixon and his publisher went forward on this project and I, for one, feel that we are better off for their show of courage and the book they produced.

Although Nixon turned much of the attention in the book from himself to seven strong personalities of modern history, he was clearly placing himself in their echelon as a peer, and thus worthy of reviewing them for his book.

The people Nixon chose were all people he either openly admired, like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Douglas MacArthur, or begrudgingly admired, like Nikita Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai. But all had a profound impact on Nixon, and he goes to great lengths to articulate their points of agreement and disagreement.

So, how does Nixon define leadership?

In a word: brilliantly. Consider this example of how differently Nixon views the notion of leadership and management.

In a sense, management is prose; leadership is poetry. People are persuaded by reason but moved by emotion; he (a leader) must both persuade them and move them. A manager represents a process. The leader represents a direction in history.

Nixon sees a leader as bold, a visionary able to see beyond the horizon, willing to face criticism, court controversy, and realize that said leader is playing the long game, playing for immortality. 

Interestingly, but not unlikely, Nixon chose people with traits not unlike himself. One cannot help but wonder if this is a thinly veiled attempt to validate his own views on leadership and the decision-making process. Perhaps or perhaps not, or perhaps both! The leaders Nixon profiles, like Nixon himself, and honestly, every one of us, are all complex and multi-layered personalities. Some may just hear the call to a higher duty, cause, or purpose with greater clarity. 

Or, in the final analysis, it is as Shakespeare summed it up with great simplicity and elegance when he wrote,

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Book review provided by Wayne B Marek.
Marek is a musician and bibliophile. In addition to two decades spent building a personal library, Wayne reads and writes regularly on topics of history, public policy, and leadership.

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