But Chernow’s book isn’t just about how not to lead. The hero of this biography of Hamilton turns out to be George Washington, the leader you would follow into battle and trust to sire your new nation. Washington, who “consulted much, pondered much, resolved slowly, resolved surely,” was no match for Hamilton intellectually, but he had unerringly good instincts and impeccable judgment. Chernow describes how Washington united a divided nation under the worst of circumstances, and channeled Hamilton’s self-destructive behavior into invaluable service for the fledgling nation. Indeed, there is a useful leadership lesson on almost every page of this remarkable biography.
Today’s business executives may sometimes feel that they’ve been cursed to live in unsettling times. But the challenges of leadership, as this disparate sextet of books demonstrates, never really change — they simply reappear in new and different forms.
Bruce A. Pasternack (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in San Francisco. He is the coauthor, with Albert J. Viscio, of The Centerless Corporation: A New Model for Transforming Your Organization for Growth and Prosperity (Simon & Schuster, 1998).
James O’Toole (email@example.com) is a research professor in the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. His research and writings have been in the areas of political philosophy, planning, corporate culture, and leadership. He has written 13 books, including Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom (Jossey-Bass, 1995).