Electric Leadership by Thomas Edison

Thomas Alvin Edison

In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge presented a medal to Thomas Edison for his contributions to the world.

In his presentation speech, Coolidge so eloquently said this:

Having carefully determined what needed to be accomplished, he has gone ahead with the unerring instinct of a seeker after truth, with an indomitable spirit for accurate research, with an infinite capacity for taking pains. Temporary failure has only spurred him to renewed activity.

Few men have possessed to such a striking degree the blending of the imagination of the dreamer with the practical, driving force of the doer. In the record of his inventions and improvements rests the unimpeachable testimony that he has brought things to pass…May you long inspire those who will carry forward your torch.

A Bright Idea

Leaders can be inspired simply by Edison’s words. I feel the following four ideals, under which I’ve compiled 12 of Edison’s leadership-oriented quotes, must be cast in the heart of any great leader.

May these literary “inventions” of Thomas Edison inspire you in your business and personal endeavors.

 On Motivation

  1. You can’t realize your dreams unless you have one to begin with.”
  2. If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astonish ourselves.”
  3. The only time I become discouraged is when I think of all the things I would like to do and the little time I have in which to do them.”

Ron Ashkenas, co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization and article author for Harvard Business Review and Forbes, pointed out that one of the “Seven Mistakes Leaders Make in Setting Goals” is to back away from tough expectations and spend more time negotiating their goal downward than in figuring out how to achieve it.

As Edison suggests, you must have a dream to lead yourself (or others) in the right direction.

A primary leadership goal should be to not settle for less than you dream of.

On Innovation

  1. If there is a way to do it better – find it.”
  2. I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.”
  3. We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything.”

McKinsey research has revealed a wide gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. Regardless, in a 2008 McKinsey survey, more than 70 percent of senior executives said that innovation will be at least one of the top three drivers of growth for their companies in the next three to five years (through 2013).

Other executives surveyed viewed innovation as the most important way for companies to accelerate the pace of change in today’s global business environment.

On Failure

  1. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  2. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
  3. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

The wisdom embedded within your failures makes you a stronger leader. In his Forbes article, “5 Things Failure Teaches You About Leadership,”

Glenn Llopis agrees with Edison’s philosophy that failure is one of life’s greatest enablers.

If you never failed at anything, you would never be forced to take action to course-correct or try new ways to seize opportunities previously unseen, he says. In the end, it’s what you do with failure that defines your character as a leader.

On Knowing What’s Important to You

  1. Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”
  2. A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?
  3. I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.”

Leaders must realize the importance of the inscription at the Oracle of Delphi, which is “Know Thyself.” Each of us must be aware of what really matters to us, as this defines our own character.

Doing Things Different

In Inc.’s “6 CEOs Share Their Biggest Regrets,” leaders shared some things they would do differently.

  • Curves founder Gary Heavin said,  “I would go back and say ‘I’ and ‘me’ less, and ‘us’ and ‘we’ more.”
  • Kevin Rose, college dropout who joined a start-up and went on to dream up Digg, said, “I wish I had finished my computer science degree.” Sometimes, I’ll be sitting around on a weekend and think, it’d be fun if I could just write up a software app really quickly.”

In my opinion, the lesson of these 3 Edison quotes is that leaders must know themselves, where they’ve been, and who they want to be.

The leadership and personal goal, as difficult as it may be, is to have no significant regrets. Let your character carry you, and build your character with each step you take.

Thank you, Mr. Edison!

As a leader, what most inspires you about the ideas, character, and contributions of Thomas Edison?


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Rob Wolfe
Rob Wolfe is Consultant at Towers Watson
He help with engagement, solution selling, relationship management & social media
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Image Sources:jedemi.com

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