Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Margaret MacMillan Launches the 2015 CBC Massey Lectures

By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

What makes good leaders? This was the question that framed Margaret MacMillan’s opening lecture in the 2015 CBC Massey Tour, which commenced last week in Fredericton. It was the first in a series, including stops in St. John’s, as well as upcoming lectures in Victoria (September 30), Calgary (October 2), and Toronto (October 7). During each presentation, MacMillan draws from her recent publication History’s People: Personalities and the Past (2015), to explore the qualities (both positive and negative) of individuals who have shaped the world in which we live.

In this first lecture, Dr. MacMillan focussed upon leadership and the art of persuasion. Drawing from the examples of Otto von Bismarck, as well as William Lyon MacKenzie King, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacMillan laid out an interesting argument for “good leadership.” Good leadership, MacMillan explained, demonstrates four key characteristics:

1. Timing and opportunity;
2. Instinct and determination;
3. Capacity to bring others along; and
4. Driving ambition.

MacMillan began by elaborating upon the political career of Otto von Bismarck. She described in colourful detail how the Prussian leader ruthlessly bullied his way into power – through good luck and good timing. Thus, by adopting a complex strategy of international trickery, von Bismarck managed to bring about a union of German states. He possessed few admirable qualities. He was determined, ruthless, and did not worry about principles – yet was opportunely elected to Prussian parliament at a time when things were beginning to change.