Saturday, May 18, 2013

Personal Interactions "Lyndon Johnson Style" can Rally People Around Your Vision

Lyndon Johnson's firm but warm and inviting handshakes went a very long way in establishing positive first impressions with the great world leaders of the 1960s he met only a day after John F. Kennedy's funeral. Johnson was a masterful politician and used his excellent ability to connect to people when in one-to-one situations to sway anyone- world leader, Kennedy administration holdover, Republican (Johnson was a Democrat), voter, to his side.

My early failures as an educational leader stemmed in part from my refusal to believe politics had any part to play in my work. The term "politic"is derived from the Greek "politikos- " of or relating to citizens. Applied to our field, the word calls for relationship building among people. Early in my career, I neglected the importance of developing strong individual relationships.

What educational leaders can learn from the success of a great politician (not necessarily a great president) like Lyndon Johnson is the power of one-to-one "pressing of the flesh" rituals. As biographer Robert Caro puts it in his 2012 work The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, "Part of [Johnson's] technique was a handshake, which he turned into more than a handshake. [Hands] were held firmly- but also in a friendly way."

A handshake may not be in order when walking the halls and classrooms, but a personal interaction with a subordinate or constituent conducted in a firm but friendly way may be just what it takes to rally people around your vision and cause.

This post is part of the "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

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