Kevin East Christian Blog and Commentary

5 Leadership Lessons from Former President George Bush

  • Kevin East
    Kevin East is the President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Texas. He formerly served Pine Cove Camps as their Executive Director of Ministries. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect… More
  • 2012 Jan 31

I am not a staunch Republican. I don't watch cable news over and over, and mindlessly repeat the taglines to anyone willing to listen. I say this because I recognize that George W. Bush is a polarizing person. Most love him or hate him.

Anyone who knows me well knows that we named our first son, Walker, after this president. The reason for us was simple; we felt like he is a godly man, seeking to make leadership decisions based on principle. He's not perfect. I'm sure if I knew more about the many decisions he has made, there would be quite a few that I wouldn't agree with. If my wife and I would have wanted to name our first son after a perfect example, we would have named him Jesus. That would have been weird.

This past week, he was here in Tyler, TX speaking to a large group of people. My wife and I were able to attend, and draw the following nuggets of leadership wisdom from his speech:

1. Lead by example. This is not something he spoke on, but what he didn't speak on. After a wild enthusiast yelled from the crowd, "We need you back, George," he stated simply that it is inappropriate for a former president to criticize a sitting president, so he would not be talking about President Obama. What a great model.

2. "You can't lead without optimism." From day one in the presidency, he talked about his view for America was optimism. He wanted everything, including the rug in the Oval Office, to reflect this. In light of everything this country went through while he was president, I could see why this was so important to him.

3. Make decisions based on principle. I knew this about him already. I didn't know the depth of how this impacted his decisions. He said, "I believe in the Almighty and the gift of God to every man, woman and child is freedom." This was the foundation of his foreign policy. Many people don't agree with this. What I drew from it was that his decisions were based on a principle. My decisions as a leader should be based on something as well. If not, popular opinion will dictate them.

I thought the most telling story of the evening was about September 12, 2001. Sixty years prior to that date, Bush's dad was fighting the Japanese in WWII. But after the Trade Center attacks, on Sept. 12, the Prime Minister of Japan called Bush. In the brief call he let Bush know that the Japanese were close friends with American, and pledged to stand by us as we sought to eradicate these terrorists. Who would have thought 60 years ago that this could ever be the case? Bush believes in freedom for all, and that Iraq could be a democracy in the Middle East. What might that look like in 60 years?

4. Leaders read. He joked with the crowd that most people didn't believe he could read. However, he read often as our president. I read in a different book about him that he and Karl Rove had a competition one year on how many books he could read. I think Bush read a little over 100 in a year, while Rove read around 130.

From there he talked about the fact he read his Bible every day as president. Some days I don't get in God's Word, and I chalk it up because of busyness. Hearing him say this helped put it in perspective for me. If he can read his Bible each day while in office, it shouldn't be too difficult for me to do the same.

5. Know who you are trying to please. When asked about what he thought about people who said he wasn't conservative enough as a president he said, "There is no such thing as an accurate short-term history." To follow up, he said: "And as far as a long-term account, I don't really care. I won't be here." I was fascinated that he came across so secure.

As I lead, I don't want to try to please people, but I want my life and leadership to please God. It is He who I seek to serve. I left the night inspired. Inspired to stand on the Foundation of my decisions, and to boldly lead where He leads me. As my son grows up, I look forward to letting him know why we named him what we did, and the charge for him to lead based on principle, for an audience of One.

What leadership lessons have you gleaned from this president, good or bad?

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