Over the summer, I try to read books that have little to do with ministry, church or being a pastor. Enter The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (kindle version) by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy. I can honestly say, there is no other book like this book. If you like history like I do, this book will simply fascinate you.
The book starts with Truman and goes all the way until Obama, looking at how former President’s interacted with sitting President’s, what happened behind the scenes in their relationships, what was going on in the world during those presidencies.
“I think we ought to organize a former presidents club,” said Herbert Hoover. “Fine,” answered Harry Truman, “You be the President of the club, and I will be the Secretary.” That unlikely exchange took place on January 20, 1953, at the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. Nevertheless, as Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy explain, the “club” really began in 1797 when George Washington retired from office and became, by his own design, the nation’s first former president.
In The Presidents Club, Gibbs and Duffy offer readers a treasury of insight into “the word’s most exclusive fraternity.” From the time of George Washington’s retirement, the nation has known relatively few periods without at least one living former President. The last time that happened followed the death of Lyndon Johnson in 1973. In contrast, when Bill Clinton took office in 1993, no less than five former Presidents were living. Four are living today.
While I didn’t read this book hoping to find leadership nuggets, they were everywhere in the book. One of the things the authors continually emphasized was the only person who can understand what being the President is like are those who have sat in that chair. I think that could be said for being a leader, running a company, leading a church. While being the President is a larger scope, and considerably more stressful than leading a church or running a business, there are some similarities. While I was a student pastor, I was convinced I knew what it was like to lead a church. Now that I lead a church, I realize how little I knew and how few people understand what it is like.
From that perspective, it turned out to be a great leadership read.
Here are a few things that jumped out to me:
- Judgment is not the same as understanding.
- Their greatest problem was never doing what was right; their greatest problem was knowing what was right.
- Others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
- Don’t confuse being ‘soft’ with seeing the other guy’s point of view.
- The greatest sin was remaining passive in the face of challenges.
- A good leader sets priorities—he doesn’t just list.
- Promising great change and delivering it are two entirely different things.
- Once a president takes office, he learns that the office is its own arena, and that the tactics, tools, and talents that had helped him rise so far so fast were useful only to a point.
- Forced to choose between the unacceptable and the intolerable, leaders nonetheless have no choice but to lead.
- If you’re doing big things, most of the time you’re never going to be around to see them.
- If you aim for big change, you shouldn’t expect to be rewarded by short-term history.