If there has been a single book that has shaped my worldview, it would be an unlikely biography that is the part of a larger series. In 2002, Robert Caro published The Years Of Lyndon Johnson Master Of The Senate and on its face, it isn’t a self-improvement book, but what it is, is a case study in power. A case study in how to find it, how to get it and how to use it. It’s my favorite book for a lot of reasons but mostly because it paints a clear picture of a colorful and misunderstood man who for all of his flaws was able to overcome tremendous odds to do great things. Hated by both liberals and conservatives, Lyndon Johnson was a master at a game most people never understood but thanks to this great book, we’re able to learn the lessons for ourselves.
When Lyndon Johnson got to the United States Senate in 1949, he got there by one of the slimmest margins in American Election history winning his election by 87 votes. Everyone questioned his legitimacy both inside his home state of Texas and in Washington where he was laughed at as Landslide Lyndon. No one would have guessed that he would be running everything about the place in five short years.
LBJ became a powerful force because he carefully and studiously established his credibility. First, he showed up to work. Taking care to be prepared and engaged in his committee work he impressed the Senate’s old bulls with his work ethic. Next, he impressed even the most hard boiled politicians in the capital, for whom politics was life, by being the most informed person they had ever met on the subject of politics. When he spoke, people listened because he was loaded with credibility.
What I take from this is that if we are to establish our own base of power, we have to first establish our credibility. We have to not only work hard, we have to establish our credibility as hard workers. We have to not only be an expert, we have to establish our credibility as experts. There is simply no substitute for credibility when it comes to building our power.
Make People Feel Important
Probably the greatest skill that marked Lyndon Johnson’s life was a rare ability to make the people around him feel important. When he was still just a young congressman’s assistant, he got so close with the powerful Sam Rayburn that he would astound congressmen by kissing the dour old man on the head. As a congressman, he was so charming that President Franklin Roosevelt allowed him to announce his candidacy for his first Senate race from the White House steps, which is a pretty big deal for a Junior Congressman. This skill carried him into the Senate and suited him well in a venue with only 96 men to get to know. He wasted no time using it with some of the Senates greatest names; Byrd, Connolly and most of all, Russel.
Zig Ziglar once said that we can get everything in life we want if we can just help get enough other people get what they want. In a world where power is a currency is valuable as cash, making other people feel valued and important might be the most important skill we can ever learn. When we make others feel important, they transfer that feeling to us and it’s that feeling that helps create an aura of power about us when we enter a room. If we help enough other people feel important, we will, by doing so become important.
Lyndon Johnson is one of history’s most colorful personalities and most misunderstood figure. Hugely arrogant and deeply insecure, he was a great man with great flaws. I am in no way suggesting that anyone should follow his path to power, but when it comes to learning where to find it and how to use it, there is simply no better manual.