In 2009 I was privileged to visit the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA and learned many new lessons on leadership from President Nixon’s life and work.
It was a fantastic visit. The main thing I was surprised to find was the extended amount of time Mr. Nixon spent being a successful politician as a Congressman, Senator, and Vice President for Dwight Eisenhower. I also never realized that Nixon was one of the main people responsible for opening up communication and trade agreements between China and the USA.
After a few hours of enjoying the Nixon Presidential Library, I can summarize what I learned into one statement which is this:
Your entire life’s work can be thrown away with one poor decision.
At the time of Watergate, President Nixon had spent 19 years of successful (and effective) work in politics. He had risen through the ranks of politics from Congressman, to Senator, to Vice President, and eventually President of the United States of America. He made made a name for himself as an effective politician capable of being the leader our country needed. However, one poor decision on Watergate and the discussions which followed destroyed his reputation and his career.
I’ve heard that it took six years to build the World Trade Center Towers but it only took a few minutes for them to come crashing down once they were hit by a plane. The same is true for leadership and trust. It might take us 19 years to build up the trust and reputation we need to effectively lead an organization (or in Nixon’s case, a country), but it only takes one poor decision to lose it all.
Visiting the Nixon Library and Museum was a great experience. I have a new respect for Nixon I didn’t learn about in school. I too, believe he was not a “crook,” just a simple man who made a poor decision and failed to handle it well.
Question: What are your thoughts on Nixon as a leader?