The Year in Law, Government and Politics

8 Jan – President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress in New York City (1790).

8 Jan – The only time in US history that the US national debt was $0.00 (1835).

16 Jan – Ivan the Terrible crowned himself the first Czar of Russia (1547).

16 Jan – The United States prohibited alcohol use throughout the nation in the 18th amendment to the Constitution (1919).

21 Jan – The National Assembly of Quebec adopted and flew the Quebec flag for the first time, inaugurating the Quebec Flag Day (1948).

29 Jan – Whig Senator Henry Clay proposed the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free state, left Utah and New Mexico to popular sovereignty, limited Texas’ territorial claims, abolished the slave trade in Washington DC, and strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, was introduced to Congress and passed in September (1850).

11 Feb – The first session of the United States Senate was opened to the public (1794).

23 Feb – A plot by the “Spencean Philanthropists”, including trade unionists and members of the London Irish community, to assassinate every British cabinet member, known as the Cato Street conspiracy, was uncovered (1820).

10 Mar – The US Congress ratifies the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican American War (1848).

12 Mar – The newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation for the first time in what became his first of thirty “Fireside Chats” (1933).

15 Apr – Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and US President during the Civil War, died after being shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC the night before (1865).

1 May – The Act of Union came into effect, uniting the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland into the United Kingdom, also known as Great Britain (1707).

4 May – Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Great Britain (1979).

9 May – The Royal Houses of England and Portugal signed the Treaty of Windsor, the oldest diplomatic alliance in history which remains in effect (1386).

16 May – US President Andrew Johnson is acquitted by one vote in the US Senate, retaining the Presidency after being impeached by the US House of Representatives (1868).

13 Jun – Rhode Island became the first British North American colony to ban the slave trade (1774).

1 Oct – Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China (1949).

24 Nov – Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged killer of President John F. Kennedy, was murdered on live television in the basement of the Dallas police department by nightclub owner Jack Ruby (1963).

28 Nov – The Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as an independent nation by the United Kingdom and by France.

1 Dec – Portugal proclaims King Joao IV as its ruler, ending the unity of the Iberian Peninsula (1640).

5 Dec – Former US President John Quincy Adams took his seat in the US House of Representatives, becoming the only US President to serve in the House after leaving Executive Office (1831).

5 Dec – Utah ratified the 21st amendment, becoming the 36th state to do so and ending Prohibition (1933).

7 Dec – Delaware became the first state to ratify the new US Constitution (1787).

11 Dec – With WW2 looming, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom abdicated to marry American widow Wallace Simpson. Edward’s younger brother George became king (1936).

The Long Shadow – How to Follow a Superstar

A Tennessee democrat who was firmly committed to the Union, Andrew Johnson had a distinguished career as congressman, senator and governor of his state. Hoping to send a message of reconciliation to the rebellious South, Lincoln chose Johnson as his vice president in 1864. Johnson’s debut on the national stage went poorly, with a rambling and perhaps drunken speech when he assumed office in March 1865. Lincoln followed with a masterpiece, his Second Inaugural Address. Little did anyone know that in only six weeks, at one of the most crucial times in American history, the rambler would be President.

A Missouri democrat who came to national prominence investigating fraud, waste and abuse on the Committee of Military Affairs during the Second World War, Harry Truman had earlier served as farmer, haberdasher, judge and US senator. With President Franklin Roosevelt in declining health and many expecting that he would not survive his fourth term, the party looked for a vice president who could succeed in the top job. Eighty-two days after the Inauguration, Roosevelt lay dead, and Truman took the top job.

Johnson struggled during his presidency, continually battling Congress on civil rights and other issues, being impeached by the House, and retaining his job by only one vote in the Senate. Historians have judged him to be among the worst presidents. Truman could never compete with the wildly popular Roosevelt, and did not try. He stuck to his agenda and his style through the atomic bomb, economic upheaval, strikes, the war in Korea, and the start of the Cold War. Though his approval rating was 22%, the worst ever, in the final year of his presidency, Harry Truman is now ranked among the best US presidents.

Many have considered why Johnson failed and Truman succeeded in their quest to follow a superstar. Johnson had the disadvantage of following a relatively young and still healthy president who no one expected to die. He also had to rebuild the nation. Truman’s ascension to the presidency was expected, but he had to stabilize the world. This article attempts to help leaders know how to follow predecessors whom others consider to be superstars.

Publicly Acknowledge Reality

1. Your predecessor is loved; do not be perceived as diminishing that in any way. If you do, you, not he, will be diminished.

2. Charles de Gaulle is the most famous man credited with saying “The graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men.” While it is true that the world will not collapse with the loss of any individual, it is equally true that no one is replaceable. Each person’s combination of knowledge, skills, personality, and industry is unique. Don’t even try to replace a predecessor.

3. However, many people could do any given job competently. Your job is not to replace a superstar, but to use your unique attributes to move the team and the organization to the next level and face a new set of challenges.

4. No one, no matter how good, can or should stay in a job forever. New times call for new people. Lincoln had an excellent plan for bringing the United States back together after the Civil War, but Lincoln was one of the greatest leaders in human history. Judging from his performance at Yalta, it is not clear that Roosevelt grasped how the world would be after World War 2, and not clear that he had a sound plan.

5. There are some people in the organization who do not consider your predecessor a superstar. No one is loved by everyone. No matter how good you are, you are not loved by everyone either.

Transition

1. If your predecessor is a real superstar, he will be sad to leave the people he has worked with so well. However, he will not impair your transition.

2. Once she is gone, she will not interfere in the organization. She will stay gone unless asked to assist.

Your task

1. Maintain the advances of your predecessor. Andrew Johnson kept Lincoln’s rough outline for gently bringing the South back into the Union, although he struggled against a vindictive Republican congress. William Taft advanced, albeit imperfectly, Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive agenda. Neither tried to turn back the clock.

2. Move the organization ahead to meet new challenges. Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, but Joshua led them into the Promised Land. Moses’ task was great and his results were legendary. Joshua’s task was also great, and his results also stood the test of time.

3. Know and use your own style. You will fail if you try to mimic someone else. You have strengths and weaknesses just like she does.

4. Improve your strengths, improve your weaknesses, and use your staff to help compensate. Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate, famously opined that the key to success was to surround yourself with good people.

5. Leaders are beloved by their troops because they love their troops. You must care for your people more than you care for yourself. The Chinese military writer Sun Tzu wrote

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.”

6. Leaders are respected because they know their job better than anyone else, and work hard.

7. Leaders are followed because they know where the organization should go and how to get there.

8. As you are accomplishing your mission, enjoy your job and your team. They will not enjoy you if you do not enjoy them.

Anticipate a Positive Future

1. Make sure that your team knows that while their beloved leader has moved on, the team’s future is bright. It is your job and theirs to make the future better.

2. If your predecessor is a real superstar, rather than someone who is interested primarily in himself and his legacy, he will want your tenure to be even better than his, because he wants the best for the organization. The group’s well-being is more important to him than his own.

Conclusion

Some may argue that Andrew Johnson had no chance to succeed following Lincoln, and that the best he could have done was to be a placeholder until the next president came in and the magic of Lincoln had faded from public memory. However, as the examples of Truman and Joshua prove, capable men can succeed in the long shadow of superstars.

You may be following a superstar, but no matter how good, his or her time is over, and yours has begun. You have been placed in this new role by your superiors, and by powers even higher. You must respect and appreciate the past, but you must shape the future. Now all that remains is to do it.