How Looking Back at History Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur and Leader
My passion for history began some 25 years ago when every Friday at 7:00 p.m. on the dot, my teenage self would learn history by listening to the Israeli radio show, Sha’a Historit (Historical Hour), hosted by the late professor Michael Har Segor. He would talk about historical events, and more importantly, the people who shaped the world in one way or another.
I’d absorb every word of it. So, when I got a chance to be a founder and jump into a leadership role, I drew upon the experiences of history’s greats that the late professor talked about.
Entrepreneurship can get overwhelming, and it’s sometimes easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are in more control than we truly are. I’ve realized that once I accept that I know less than I think I do, history can become a mentor of sorts that helps us understand the evolution of human nature and build on the strong foundations already in place.
Although I’m not absorbing historical knowledge as much as I want to these days (running a startup and parenting three kids tends to get in the way), I find that spending time studying history can impact daily decision-making and conduct, helping me become a better leader. Here are a few aspects where I find this applies:
History can shape your leadership style
I’m big on obtaining various viewpoints, encouraging discussions and testing assumptions –not so that you have options – but to have the best course of action based on merits.
Such an approach largely formulated John F. Kennedy’s decision-making, for example, during the heights of the Cuban missile crisis, helping him prevent a major catastrophe while learning from his mistake.
As a CEO, I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or know everything about everything. I try to empower each team member to have a voice and be creative. Studying Kennedy helped me connect the dots to realize that, as CEOs, we’re essentially providing the toolbox through which our team will try something new and innovate.
It’s not just about having a protective layer against bad decisions. An engaged team member generates tremendous value for a company by thinking outside of the box and owning their decisions. And when a new challenge presents itself, their determination will inevitably make for a stronger team and company.
History can help re-energize you/show the importance of energy
As a history buff, I was fortunate enough to visit the Churchill War Rooms museum in London back in 2019. It was a sentimental experience, soaking in all the amazing memorabilia from one of the greatest leaders our planet has ever known.
I thought about how Winston Churchill pulled it off. The man was a textbook workaholic, completely focusing his life on leading the UK in WW2. Yet, he never missed a beat, even while battling pneumonia on two occasions. Then and there, the importance of energy dawned upon me.
In the business world, we’re pretty much conditioned that time is money. And while that mantra is true in no small part, energy is arguably our biggest asset.
Effective work and management rely on our energy levels and the resulting mental acuity to hone in. Yet, there is only a finite amount of energy we can feed upon each day, which is why what you do when you have enough energy is far more important than simply doing it.
As a leader, it’s our responsibility to set the energy standard and maintain it so others do, too. Nurture your energy, keep track of it, and know what fuels and depletes it. While I can’t envision cigars and brandy as the remedy a leader needs, Churchill’s example of focus and clarity on what matters in the most difficult of times shows just how vital energy is in being mentally locked in. It’s an example I follow blindly, and I’d like to think both myself and my team are better for it.
History can inspire and toughen you up
To be an entrepreneur is to take a beating every once in a while, mentally and physically. There will be times when you’ll start doubting yourself and your vision, despite all the passion. If you’re not persistent enough to overcome fear and failures, running a business will eat at you until there’s no more meat on the bone.
History is replete with personalities who chose not to be defined by their circumstances and previous experiences and instead decided to view them as stepping stones to success.
Abraham Lincoln lost numerous lost political races. There were hundreds of ways Thomas Edison failed to build a light bulb. Henry Ford had two bankruptcies. Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting. The list could go on for miles.
For inspiration that will drive you to tread your path and make a mark on the world, look at the men and women who have shifted our society (not just business) in significant ways. Inspiration and persistence are mandatory parts of the entrepreneurial journey, as they provide the opportunities to learn and adapt. It can be very difficult and demoralizing to keep going when things go sideways, so the ability to push on, even if the finish line seems far on the horizon, can be the difference-maker.
These are just a few samples of greatness that are recorded in the history books and help me in my day-to-day life. Even in the digital economy of today, there are lessons and behaviors from yesterday that you can learn and adopt as an entrepreneur and leader. After all, there is a reason for the saying “History repeats itself” – some things never change.