Curt Summers @LincolnMgmt posted an idea of a thinking game on Twitter several weeks ago. He challenged his readers to pick seven people alive or deceased we would invite to dinner if we had the opportunity. Personally I could put together dinners for seven straight nights with seven different people each night. I would have a sports dinner or two, one with athletes and one with coaches. I would have a dinner of authors and another one or two with entertainment personalities. There would be one with reporters and news people and one with great people of influence. Since the original article by Mr. Summers was about leadership I am going to focus this blog on dinner with great people of influence.
Here is my list:
- Mother Teresa
- Martin Luther King
- Ronald Reagan
- Abraham Lincoln
- John F. Kennedy
- Thomas Jefferson
- A. William Rhodes – My Dad
Of course, there have been many other people who have had both a great positive and a great negative influence on the history of the world. For me the importance of this group is that it is diverse. There are certainly differences in politics from top to bottom. There would surely be differences in how to handle the issues of today. And there would be differences in Leadership and Management Styles. What would not be different is the desire and ability to make a difference in the lives of people. Each of these people would demonstrate not only a great ability to speak but also to listen. They would be able to give examples of how they met real life challenges and overcame them.
Mother Teresa was an advocate for the poor. She devoted her life to making a difference for those less fortunate. One of my favorite quotes from Mother Teresa is:
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
All of us can learn the importance of seeing people as simply that people. No matter their place in the universe a person is a person.
Martin Luther King overcame so many challenges it would be difficult to list them all. And most importantly he did so in peace. He stood for the equality of his people at a time when they were thought of as second class citizens simply because of the color of their skin. One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King comes from his most famous speech:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”- Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.
Today we are much closer to that dream yet we still have work to do.
Ronald Reagan was an actor turned President. President Regan was a man on a mission. His Regan Revolution was focused on making people less reliant on the government. It was not only about being proud to be an American, but also about taking pride in what you could do for yourself. In some ways he popularized the concept of Personal Accountability. My favorite of his many quotes:
One of the top leadership conversations today is that of Personal Accountability. Will we take accountability for our own lives and our own futures or will we wait to be eaten by the Crocodile?
Abraham Lincoln, the tall, lanky man from the woods of Kentucky and Indiana lead during the darkest days of our country and died for fighting for what he believed. There are many stories about his cabinet meetings and visits to the Union troops during the civil war. He is most famous for the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address which both illustrate a man standing up for his beliefs. One of my favorite quotes from President Lincoln:
“I desire to so conduct the affairs of this administration that if, at the end … I have lost every friend on earth, I shall have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.”– Abraham Lincoln
This quote speaks of leadership from the core. You must believe in yourself and stand for what you believe in if you are going to meet the challenges ahead. Leadership of many most often starts with being the leader of one yourself.
John F Kennedy was lost to us before he started. I have often wondered where we would be as a country had that day in Dallas never happened. He was much beloved despite his faults and was in a position to bring America an energy it had not seen in many years. I would ask President Kennedy what his plan was for the future. I bet the answer would be inspiring. My favorite quote of his:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” – John F. Kennedy, Inaugural address, January 20, 1961
This is a message we are still working to achieve today. In a world that has become smaller through technology we continue to work on solutions that bring people together and end war. And within our borders we continue to fight among ourselves rather than finding solutions for a better America.
Thomas Jefferson was not the first President of the United States but may have been our first great leader. He was a powerful advocate for liberty. Although it seems his tool of influence was more the pen than the spoken word, he stood tall among his peers. He drafted the Declaration of Independence yet did not initially place his signature on it. I see him as a humble man who would bring much wisdom to any leadership discussion. My favorite quote:
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson
This is a simple truth from a brilliant man. Sadly, it is a truth that may no longer exist in many facets of our lives. We seem to have accepted that dishonesty and little white lies are part of life. We have allowed our politicians, our advertisers and even ourselves to provide only part of the story rather than the honest, entire story. Honesty and humility are two of the keys to great leadership. They are also the two that often keep good leaders from being great and our world requires great leaders today.
A William Rhodes is my father. Many of you will think that this is simply a sentimental choice from someone who lost his Father just over two years ago. In fact, I have planned a dinner with people of influence and for me and anyone fortunate enough to have worked with or met my father, he was a very influential person. My father and I certainly had our differences during our time together, but as I grew in my role as a father and manager of people, I began to understand more and more that we agreed on two fundamental concepts; respect and responsibility. Did my father like every person that he worked with or met through family and friends? Perhaps not, but he gave them all the presumption that they deserved his respect. He allowed people to speak their differences, he listened and he gave his response carefully and respectfully. My father also understood responsibility and held the expectation that everyone must take responsibility for their actions. Those are important qualities, but what brings my Dad to the table is the way others saw him: the people who spoke at his retirement dinner and spoke about him publicly and privately throughout his life; the people who honored him at his Memorial and still speak of him two years later; the people who offered his children lodging during travel here and abroad. I hear so many discussions about athletes or entertainers becoming role models in society and I shake my head. I grew up the fan of many great athletes and was fortunate enough to know friends who became great athletes, but my role models were in my home. My Mother and Father were my role models and strongest “people of influence” in my life. I believe parents should be the primary role models in the life of every child. One last note on Dad is that he probably wouldn’t accept his seat at the table without Mom sitting beside him, so I will add a plate.
My favorite quote:
“Your people don’t work for you, they work with you.”- A William (Bill) Rhodes
Words I remind myself of every day.
Those are my selections for a great leader’s dinner. Jot down your own, read about them and learn from them. We can all learn from the past to help us create a better future.