A Message From The President

March 2013


                                                       Lessons in Letters

Recently declassified documents shed light on a surprisingly warm relationship between two very different presidents and provide us with some valuable lessons in leadership.

The differences in age, political party and personal style of Presidents Clinton and Nixon do not seem to provide the foundation for a respectful and warm relationship. Their deep personal divisions, though, make good press. Hillary Clinton had been a legal advisor to the House Judiciary Committee considering impeachment charges against President Nixon, and he was not silent about his distaste of her demeanor during Bill Clinton’s campaign (“If a wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent, it makes the husband look like a wimp”).

Yet they developed a relationship that benefitted both men. President Clinton sought out President Nixon’s input on matters of foreign affairs.  He ultimately described President Nixon’s insight on Russia as the clearest, most rigorous and cohesive he received. The choice of President Clinton to deliver President Nixon’s eulogy and Clinton’s clear admiration for Nixon surprised many at the time. In the end, it was President Clinton who encouraged the world to judge President Nixon by the whole of his life with recognition of his mistakes, strengths and contributions.

The recently released letters highlight the benefit in reaching out beyond our comfort zone to entertain insights that challenge our ideas. There is poignancy too in the relationship between this elder, battle-worn and fallible leader and a young, jazz-playing, forward-looking president. It is also not surprising that it was the elder statesman, humbled by experience, who initiated the dialogue. The letters also accentuate the benefits of graciousness and respect with the passage of responsibility and power.

I would not have expected to find the inspiration for this month’s President’s message in letters from the late President Nixon. Maybe there is a lesson in that too.