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Learn From The Past: Amanda Foreman's Historical Leadership Talk
Social Change | July 15, 2013

Learn From The Past: Amanda Foreman's Historical Leadership Talk

In her enrapturing new talk, Amanda Foreman gives a refreshing take on leadership. She delivered a keynote at The Sydney Institute, where she used lessons from history to pinpoint poor managerial tactics. In the clip embedded above, Foreman looks to the actions of Russian politician Vladimir Lenin to show the perils of leaders who focus solely on cause—and little else. The bestselling historian and prominent leadership speaker explains that Lenin was so blinded by his objectives that he often trampled over his citizens. In The Wall Street Journal, she further explains that his micromanaging also caused him to be oblivious to what was happening with the people he presided over.

A perfect example of this can be found in an exploration of what Foreman calls "The Toilet Crisis." On a train ride from Switzerland to Russia, Lenin noticed that there was an excessively long line to use the facilities. The reason, he discovered, was that patrons were bypassing his "no smoking in the carriage" policy by having cigarettes in the restroom. Lenin decided that "he would solve the problem in true Soviet style," Foreman recounts, "by assessing the needs of the passengers . . . by allowing the party (which, at this point, meant Lenin) to allocate the goods and services according to revolutionary party principles."

Lenin proceeded to award strips of paper to the passengers: A long strip for the smokers (entitling them to on long visit to the restroom) and two short ones for the non-smokers (providing them with two short visits). However, the passengers didn't feel their needs were met. Many of them resorted to bartering the tickets, or, attempting to escape the train altogether in protest. Further, the smokers eventually ran out of supplies, and, the toilet had become broken from overuse. The tickets had become redundant. "Lenin then proceeded to run all of Russia along the same lines as the Toilet Crisis," she concludes. In her entertaining and informative talks, Foreman illuminates what we can learn from looking to the past. She doesn't just tell audiences how to effectively—and not so effectively—run their organizations. Rather, she uses fascinating historical lessons to  breathe new life into the age-old topic of leadership.
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