Practical analysis for investment professionals
22 September 2017

Weekend Reads: Courage, Photography, and “History’s Lessons”

There are two words jousting in my mind: leadership and courage. I use “jousting” deliberately. Leadership and courage should go hand in hand, but more often than not, they compete against one another. And courage rarely wins out.

A few weeks ago, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, wrote an impassioned plea for moral courage. As one of my colleagues noted after reading the essay, “It’s a moving piece, beautifully penned, forcing readers to reflect. The world needs more leaders like him. He represents the triumph of America that for every bigot, there are many more who are fair, good, and wise.”

Indeed, I wish there were more leaders who wrote and inspired like Walker. While it was the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that prompted his call for moral courage, it is a call that is by no means confined to the realm of politics. Business leaders, too, must show leadership courage.

“We need leaders who build bridges, not walls,” Walker writes. “It is up to each and every one of us to stand up for what is right — to our boards and shareholders and political parties, to our friends and colleagues, if necessary — even when it is not in our immediate interest. And we cannot wait; we must be the leaders our countries need and the world deserves. After all, what is the point of leadership, if not to lead in times like these? What could we possibly be holding on to, or out for, when everything — everything — is at stake?”

The other night, as I was thinking about what to write, I happened to pick up the September issue of Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin. One article, in particular, caught my attention, “History’s Lessons.” It tells the stories of “ordinary people who, despite the odds, achieved extraordinary things,” and is based on the book Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn.

Here are three lessons from the article:

  1. “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill” (Ernest Shackleton)
  2. “When Doing Nothing Is the Best Action” (Abraham Lincoln)
  3. “The Power of Quiet” (Rachel Carson)

Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, believes courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers.

“Courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations,” he wrote in an op-ed published earlier this year. “They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires their teams, energizes customers, and positions their companies as leaders in societal change.”

Here is a short selection of some other interesting articles from the past few weeks, in case you missed them:

  • Morgan Housel’s post about “Overcoming Your Demons” is, without a doubt, a profile in courage. I don’t want to give away too much, but if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. One thing that stood out and bears repeating: “You never know what struggles people are hiding. . . . so many things can be disguised in a way that gives a facade of normalcy over a person’s internal struggles. Keep this in mind, and you’ll naturally become more forgiving and empathetic. Everyone’s just trying to make it through the day the best they can.” (Collaborative Fund)
  • If you are a runner, this is for you: “How to Be Mindful When Running.” “Movement is medicine. When we reconnect to the world with our feet, we can experience a powerful shift in mental and emotional states. Deeply therapeutic, mindweeful running simply offers a return to the real world from which we so often find ourselves adrift,” writes William Pullen, a psychotherapist and founder of Dynamic Running Therapy. (The New York Times)
  • As Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, Politico‘s Michael Grunwald wrote a terrific piece about the “paradise that should never have been.” In it, he reminded readers there was one reason South Florida remained, in his words, so unpleasant and so empty for so long: water. “The region was simply too soggy and swampy for development,” he writes. “Its low-lying flatlands were too vulnerable to storms and floods. As a colorful governor with the colorful name of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward put it: ‘Water is the common enemy of the people of Florida.'” The state as we now know it exists due to water control.
  • Are you a fan of spy thrillers? Then tuck into this one: “Spies Like Us: A Conversation with John le Carré and Ben Macintyre.” (The New York Times)
  • Does photography make us act or inure us to despair?” (Aeon)
  • Two articles that have been the topic of much discussion in recent weeks: John Lanchester’s “You Are the Product” and David Remnick’s conversation with Hillary Clinton. (London Review of Books, The New Yorker)
  • Thirteen images from this year’s list of finalists for “Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017.” (The Atlantic)
  • Finally, I love the idea, captured in the tweet below, that “Every book is a kiss. But there are plenty of people by whom one has no desire to be kissed.”

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster was a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

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