Leadership Q&A: Vernon Jordan

Article excerpt

Byline: Lazard Freres

During more than 40 years in public life, Vernon Jordan has headed the United Negro College Fund, led the Urban League, been a confidant to U.S. presidents, served on various corporate boards--and most recently, advised President George W. Bush as a member of the Iraq Study Group. In the latest in his series of interviews as part of the NEWSWEEK-Kaplan M.B.A. program, NEWSWEEK Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Richard M. Smith spoke with Jordan, who is senior managing director at the investment bank Lazard Freres. Excerpts:

SMITH: Why do some politicians fail and why do some corporate executives fail? What are the common threads?

JORDAN: I think some people fail because they have tin ears--they don't listen. Other people fail because they don't have competent people around them. Other people fail because while they may have some notion about where they're going they don't have much appreciation of how to get there. Abraham Lincoln had a very interesting notion about leadership. It's fascinating that in 1860 he hired his presidential rival, Salmon Chase, and another guy from Ohio he beat for the Republican nomination, into his cabinet ... It's a huge mistake, oftentimes, to punish an opponent. I think that's probably truer in corporate America than in political America. …