At first blush, you wouldn’t consider Mark Twain a model for business leaders. He squandered his considerable wealth on bad investments and ultimately declared bankruptcy more than 20 years after publishing his first book. Afterward he said, “To succeed in business, avoid my example.”
It’s a shame, though, because he actually knew a lot about leadership – particularly about the leader as communicator. Not surprisingly, he saw the value of clear communication (“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug”) and compelling language (“Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph”). He also understood the power of praise (“I can live for two months on a good compliment”) and of having a clear vision (“You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus”). Finally, he knew the importance of setting an example (“Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest”) and of creating a positive work environment (“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions”).
In addition to being a great writer – or maybe part of the reason he was a great writer—Twain had three qualities in rare amounts: a deep understanding of human nature, extraordinary common sense and powerful communication skills. All three are critical components of successful leadership. Though the ability to make good investment decisions helps, too. (Thanks to LeadershipNow for some of the quotes.)