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Get Off Your Horse!: Fifty-Two Succinct Leadership Lessons from U.S. Presidents Paperback – September 7, 2017
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About the Author
After serving 25 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, Michael “Bret” Hood became the director of 21st Century Learning & Consulting, LLC upon his retirement in 2016. During his tenure with the FBI, Bret led and served in three different divisions finishing his career by spending the last four years as an adjunct professor of leadership for the University of Virginia at the prestigious FBI National Academy. In 2010, Bret was selected to be part of an elite team tasked to develop a new executive leadership program for the FBI. As such, Bret joined the FBI Academy staff in 2012 and created unique and interactive courses on the psychology behind leadership, executive leadership, ethics, decision-making and contemporary issues in leadership. In addition to these duties, Bret has led over 70 international delegations on behalf of the FBI teaching our foreign law enforcement partners about leadership, financial crimes, anti-money laundering and anti-corruption prevention and investigation. Bret has also worked with various private sector entities facilitating discussions about the psychology of the leader/follower relationship. Since retiring, Bret has traveled around the world teaching leadership and financial crime to members of various public and private sector entities, which include among others, Coca-Cola, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, Google, Kansas City Police Department, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Bret is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, Eat More Ice Cream: A Succinct Leadership Lesson for Each Week of the Year.
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What makes the tent so special is not only its historical importance, but its representation of Washington’s leadership – where his troops went, he went; where they suffered, he suffered with them; and he conducted his battle planning in the tent, the same place he slept. It is said that a good general never asks a private to do anything the general wouldn’t, and Washington was the perfect example.
I thought of Washington’s headquarters tent while looking at the cover of, and reading, Michael Bret Hood’s excellent new book on leadership entitled Get Off Your Horse! Fifty-Two Succinct Leadership Lessons from U.S. Presidents. The cover features Washington standing beside his horse, in full uniform, representing the tricky line a leader has to walk between being at the head of the line and getting too far in front of those following. In fact, the very first lesson in the book underscores Washington’s willingness to do whatever the situation required, regardless of his position, reportedly helping some young soldiers move a heavy log off a pathway, when a corporal refused to “lower himself” to do so.
Bret Hood knows a lot about leadership, both from study and experience. He served 25 years in the FBI, learning about and investigating everything from financial crime to narcotics trafficking; becoming an expert in forensics; establishing relationships with local law enforcement; instituting and supervising a team from more than 12 different federal, state and local agencies to address mortgage fraud in Southwest Florida – for which he received the Special Agent of the Year Award from the United States Attorney’s Office; serving as a Supervisory Special Agent, forming positive relationships between the Bureau and over 1,000 domestic and international law enforcement and private sector representatives, simultaneously directing and performing internal investigations and creating executive leadership courses in many areas including ethics and compliance; and acting as Instructor in the Bureau’s Law Enforcement Leadership and Communications Unit in Washington. He became an Adjunct Faculty Member at the University of Virginia in Ethics, Decision-Making, Leadership and the Psychology of Leadership; and is an author and consultant in leadership and related areas.
Thus, when Bret speaks, it’s wise to listen.
What he has done in Get Off Your Horse! is take his considerable knowledge of the subject, and review of scientific studies of leadership – much of it very recent - and marry the science to examples from American Presidential history, at once crystallizing the lessons about which he writes and making the read interesting. We are told that people remember stories, and Hood has over 50 of them. Some of the stories are well known, others less so, but a treat to discover. Among my favorites are:
• Ronald Reagan’s self-deprecating humor during the near-death moments following the attempt on his life, and thereafter, reassuring both the medical staff and the nation, and establishing trust and connection with people through his expression of his own humanity.
• John F. Kennedy taking straight up responsibility for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, demonstrating the ability to admit error and accept the accountability that goes with power, and from which Kennedy learned - learning that may have helped save humanity during his steady resolve in the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.
• Theodore Roosevelt’s boldness and ethical conscience in pursuing anti-trust efforts and food safety legislation at a time long before “consumer protection” was a commonly used term.
• Abraham Lincoln’s emotional intelligence and empathy in trying to both preserve the Union and “bind up the nation’s wounds” from the Civil War.
• James K. Polk’s workaholic personality and refusal or inability to delegate, and the consequences of this in connection with stress and leadership.
• James A. Garfield’s humility, illustrated in his efforts to seek conciliation between various factions in Congress.
• Grover Cleveland’s financial stewardship.
• James Madison’s smarts in acknowledging the work of others in the creation of the Constitution, notwithstanding his seminal role in this endeavor.
• Dwight Eisenhower’s understanding of the need for both collaboration and decisiveness, and his ability to balance the two.
Not all of the stories are about successful leadership or have happy endings. Many are of Presidential failures, short-sightedness, stubbornness, egomania, indiscretion, and dishonesty. But what they have in common is both a lesson to be learned for the reader – or leader – and a psychological, physiological, biochemical or other scientific backdrop to the point of the story. This gives the book a relevance that goes beyond simple historical interest or example, and grounds it in contemporary research.
Another of the virtues of Get Off Your Horse! is that each chapter – or lesson – is self-contained, though some of the lessons can be related to each other. They can be used individually or in combination for instructional and scenario purposes. This gives the work flexibility in both approach and use, and adds to its value as a teaching tool. With 55 chapters – one for each week of the year plus three “bonus” chapters from Hood’s earlier work Eat More Ice Cream – there is plenty from which to choose.
Whether one finds every example pertinent to his or her organization, there is something for everyone, and that is one of the best things Get Off Your Horse! offers. Above all, this book makes clear:
• the study and execution of leadership are complicated, and reside not only in what we think of as personal qualities, but in the sociological, biological, physiological and psychological aspects of those qualities as well as the relationships and circumstances involved;
• what may work in one situation isn’t necessarily the answer for another, and clear-eyed assessments in each case are necessary to hope to get the best possible results; and
• leaders are first and foremost people - with their own strengths and weaknesses - and knowing that information is crucial to making good judgments about those upon whom we choose to confer leadership – whether in the organizational, academic or governmental world.
Choosing wisely means understanding all of this, and acting on it. Get Off Your Horse! provides both a helpful primer in achieving that understanding, and a significant contribution to the ever-growing field of leadership literature. Beyond that, it’s a fun read.
Anyone who finds themselves in a leadership role will have to constantly do three basic things to be successful. Deal with people, make decisions, and solve problems are the three core tasks faced by leaders every day. Bret’s new book, Get Off Your Horse!, Fifty-Two Leadership Lessons from U.S. Presidents, describes the latest scientific research and ties it to real-world examples involving past U.S. presidents. This is a very unique and effective way for the reader to learn these leadership psychology concepts supported by historically accurate and relevant examples.
I highly recommend Bret’s new book. Whether you are just starting out in your career, newly promoted into a leadership role, or are a seasoned leader, this book will benefit you in so many ways. Some examples of subjects covered include leading teams, communication skills, self-assessment, ethics, conflict resolution, leader-follower relationships, and decision-making pitfalls. Some of the research areas discussed include analysis paralysis, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, ethical fading, decision fatigue, and psychological reactance. These are just a few of the areas discussed by Bret that can truly assist leaders of all backgrounds and with any level of experience to be better leaders and better followers.
One of my favorite definitions of leadership that I have taught and used in my classes defines leadership as the influencing process of leaders and followers to achieve organizational objectives through change. Bret’s book should be in every leader’s library to assist them in the leadership process and make them better at what they do and how they do it. As leaders, we influence people every day. The key to success is that we strive to make our influence as positive for our followers and organizations as possible. Get Off Your Horse!, Fifty-Two Leadership Lessons from U.S. Presidents will definitely help you achieve this noble and important goal.