The BLG Blog

Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

Kennedy & The Berlin Wall

Sometimes you stumble on a book that impacts you in multiple ways. Kennedy and the Berlin Wall by Professor W.R. Smyser is such a book. In many ways, it is a coming-of-age book.

I was in my early teens as Kennedy was dealing with the Berlin problem and this book took me back to all the characters I grew up with on the black-and-white TV. It reminded me of Kennedy, Sorenson, Bundy, and Khrushchev, the aging Eisenhower, and DeGaulle.

But, having an interest in leadership and negotiations, this book turned out to be much, much, more than a trip down memory lane. It’s a coming-of-age story in a different sense.

It’s the coming-of-age story of Kennedy and his negotiations with Nikita Khrushchev.

This book deals with the Berlin Wall, which was the most significant and symbolic issue of the Cold War. The volume will be a great asset for any leadership class, especially in a class concerned with negotiation skills.

To those of us who believe that tactical decisions, interpersonal relations, and nuanced moves make a difference—this book is a dramatic addition to your repertoire.

With great depth and from a hands-on perspective, Smyser gives us a sense of the push-pull aspects of moving agendas forward and what it means to have advisors. The book is packed full of lessons on using coalitions, knowing when to be ideological and when to be pragmatic, sensing when to be dramatic and when to be mundane, and dealing with reality.

This book, using the Berlin Wall to explore the relationship between Kennedy and Khrushchev, is one of the best volumes I’ve read on the challenges of leadership and negotiations.

When coupled with Graham Allison & Philip Zelikow’s The Essence of Decision, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall makes for an excellent case study on leadership, decision making, and negotiation skills.

I have every intention of assigning it to my fall leadership class.



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