Ben Bradlee passed away at the age of 93 this week. He was the legendary Executive Editor of Washington Post for 26 years, the longest ever tenure for someone to lead a media property. Bradlee is most famous for leading the charge during the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal and exposing the misdeeds of his administration during the “Watergate Era,” forcing Richard Nixon’s resignation as the first US president to ever resign for his exploits and abuses.
It is rare that leadership accomplishments from the media and journalism spill over into the corporate world from which we draw inspiration and lessons. Ben Bradlee was a rare example from which any leadership endeavor would draw inspiration. I read All the President’s Men and then saw that movie when it came out in 1976. After hearing the news of his death last week I watched that movie again the other day and was struck by his force of leadership that catapulted both the Post and the two reporters (Woodward and Bernstein) to fame. Interestingly, throughout the 2Hr-20Min. movie his character appears only for about 10Mins., yet it dominates the movie!
So, what are some of the lessons of leadership that can be universally applicable in any endeavor? Here is my list after watching that movie again and seeing Bradlee eulogized by the media since his passing:
- A true leader does not provide answers to others’ problems; he asks the right questions.
- A leader empowers his team to pursue the truth and points them in the direction of the truth by being true to their own convictions.
- Never underestimate what your team can do when you empower them with a mission and strust its work.
- An inspiring leader stands by his reports when they make a mistake (Woodward and Bernstein mistakenly reported that Nixon’s Chief of Staff—Bob Haldeman, who later went to prison—was mentioned in the Grand Jury testimony, even though he was implicated by others). Upon learning the context Bradlee stood by his young reporters, even though he privately chewed them out for sloppy reporting.
- Believing in a cause greater than yourself can inspire you to pursue things that will reveal your true self to those who work with you.
- Nothing should stop you from pursuing the truth.
- Do your best today and be ready to do even better tomorrow!
- There is no force greater than the pursuit of truth (the US President and all his machinery could not stop the Post from reporting the truth they were uncovering).
- When you are forced to decide during a crisis go with your gut and admit when you make a mistake
- Take immediate responsibility when things go wrong (Bradlee returned the wrongly awarded Pulitzer Prize and offered to resign, despite the fact that he was not the immediate editor for that story).
When it comes to great leadership there is nothing mysterious of what great leaders do to deserve that mantle. By pursuing these simple principles we, too, can aspire to be great!