Earlier today, outgoing Governor Phil Bredesen spoke at the final 2010 membership lunch of the Exchange Club of Nashville.  Bredesen addressed numerous successes over the past eight years as governor, including conservation efforts to set aside 350,000 acres of land in Tennessee, economic development opportunities such as landing a new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, and his work to push solar and other alternative energy sources.

Aside from the Governor’s political ponderings, I took away a few "lessons learned" from the leadership style of this man who served eight years as Mayor of Nashville and eight years as Governor of Tennessee.   Whether you have to get along with a few development partners chasing a new alternative energy idea … whether you lead a crew of 10 masonry contractors complying with the new drug safety provisions .. or whether you manage a couple thousand employees worldwide in implementing a new information technology system, here are a few leadership lessons that I picked up from the Governor:

  • Increase expectations.  As a political leader, Bredesen wanted to leave office with the citizens of the state having a better expectation of government and its leaders than when he entered office.  As a business leader, you should want to raise the expectations of your partners, management and employees.  You should instill the sense of "possibility" in that financial success can be achieved, even in hard times. 
  • Pick to succeed in few areas.  For Bredesen, this meant concentrating on a few areas for the success of the state … and then doing that work "really well."  In the construction world, it could be an active decision to improve project administration and documentation in the new year.  For the developer, it could be chasing one particular investment really hard, as opposed to a few potential opportunities with less vigor. Whatever your industry, pick a few areas for success, work hard, succeed, and then expand your focus.
  • Lead from the center.  Bredesen spoke about the challenge of the election process. "Elections are fun," he said. "But, in this democracy, you have to eventually push aside the campaign signs." Bredesen concluded that the real trick in leadership is not how to win the election, but how you find common ground to solve problems after the election.  Today’s business leaders need to do the same.

Governor Bredesen said is working closely with Governor-elect Bill Haslam, who will take office in the new year.