When President Barron spoke to our class about his reading of Team of Rivals, he explained how he followed the theme of Lincoln’s communication throughout the book. This thread of communication as an element of leadership guided his reading of the entire biography, and he challenged us each to pick our own theme of leadership and see how Lincoln embodies that. For my theme, I was drawn to the way that Lincoln can create harmony between members of his team.
Until this summer, harmony was not a word I necessarily associated closely with leadership. After taking a personal strengths assessment this summer, I was given harmony as my number one strength. I was taken aback by this. Typically, great leaders are those who push the boundary and challenge the status quo and make some people upset in the process. To me, getting harmony as one of my key strengths (let alone my #1 strength) was a sign of conformity and weakness to an extent. As an intern in a consulting firm, one with a reputation for being highly demanding, I thought an emphasis on harmony and making everyone feel good was a signal that I wasn’t cut out for being in this industry. I didn’t want to accept that I was this soft kid who wanted everyone to get along all the time. Yet, the more that I thought about it, the more that I believe that striving for harmony is actually a central part of my personality and leadership style.
I thrive in team environments where there are high levels of trust and cooperation. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from building relationships with others and getting to know my colleagues and classmates. (In fact, I sometimes find PLA class overwhelming because I want to check in with so many people that I can’t actually speak to everyone.) I don’t like it when other people are unhappy, and I like to take steps to make sure that everyone is doing okay and getting along.
In the Blue Band this year, as one of the section leaders for the clarinet section, I feel very responsible for promoting section morale and building friendships among the members of the section. It’s important to me to make sure that everyone is doing okay and having a good time and is taken care of. However, I anticipate facing a challenge this year that is counteracting my preference for harmony. We have fewer spots for our pregame performance than we have members in the section, so we always have 4-6 people who are not marching for a given game. The pregame spots are assigned based on music memorization, and how fast you can get your music memorized. This year, some of our more senior members lost their pregame spots to rookies who memorized their music very quickly. This has created tension in the section, and people are taking steps to “challenge” one another for a pregame spot. Essentially, this is a no-win situation, where there are not enough spots for everyone, so not everybody is going to be happy. This really is challenging me to accept that I can’t solve everyone’s issues and can make everybody happy; instead, I am trying to build trust that extend beyond the day-to-day dissatisfaction some people are feeling.
All of this to say, I think harmony is a very important element of leadership and one that I am trying to embody now. To bring this back to Lincoln, I was struck by a line in the introduction, where Goodwin lauds Lincoln’s ability to “form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left unattended, might have escalated into permanent hostility.” Lincoln’s interpersonal skills helped him be a successful president, and I want to follow how this plays out in the book and how I can better create harmony in my own leadership.