From Cairo to Gainesville- Leadership Lessons from the late President Anwar Sadat

By Jennifer Webb

The tea was incredibly sweet, the kind I would never drink back in Gainesville. However sitting in the spacious living room of Mrs. Jehan Sadat’s home in Cairo, it somehow didn’t seem appropriate to refuse the drink.

This specific tea had been part of the allure of the unusual tour my son and I had signed up for when we were looking for an exciting Egyptian adventure. The thought of actually having tea with the woman who had been by her husband’s side at the Camp David Accords and had been involved in so much history, was too tempting to pass up. And here I was chatting with her about women’s rights and the future of Egypt, wandering unattended amid several rooms with mementos and photos of a young Jehan and Anwar with their children.

Her passion for her late husband and his legacy was clear in her conversation. And his role in the Camp David Accords made me think back to how Stephen Covey had used Sadat’s transformation from hot headed monarch to strategic peacemaker to emphasize key tenets in leadership.

Five “Musts” for Modern Day Leaders

  •  Be willing to change your perspective. Flexibility and resilience are integral to great leaders just as an unwillingness to entertain other points of view leads to narrow perspectives and missed opportunities. Early in his presidency Sadat chanted that he would never shake the hand of an Israeli as long as they occupied one inch of Arab soil. Later he realized this attitude was not going to get him what he needed. In fact he did the unthinkable, and in November 1977 he initiated direct contacts with Israel and made a dramatic visit to Jerusalem, where he spoke to the Israeli Knesset (parliament)..
  • Pick your battles. We’ve heard this old adage again and again, but it has tremendous worth. President Sadat had to get his ego out of the way and focus on the long-term goal of peace, in order to survive the days of negotiation at Camp David with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. There were little things, like who would go through a door first following President Jimmy Carter, a president or a prime minister. Both men drew back to let the other go through the door first. Every day there will be battles that you can wage, that will take you away from your mission and core values and usurp your energy. Focus on the real goal and let others get stuck in the minutia.
  • Examine your motives. Initially Sadat was about proving his strength and power as a president, but creating lasting peace for the Middle East became more important than simple recognition, and he ultimately, along with Begin, received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1978. Ask yourself why you are reacting the way you are, is it for the right reasons or have other agendas crept in.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Covey continually reminds us to literally see the result we want as if we already have it, and then go backwards to the steps it took to get there. All things are created twice, one in the mind and once in reality. It’s important to have a clear vision of where you want to be, and the ability to articulate that vision to your team. As an example, Sadat grew up one of 13 siblings and was his grandmother’s favorite. She spent a great deal of time teaching him about history, helping him see the man he would become. Said Sadat “He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality and will never, therefore, make any progress.”
  • Look to others. It’s not possible to know it all, so continually follow Covey’s advice on “sharpening the saw.” Ask yourself who is doing it smarter, more effectively or just differently than you are. Sadat admired and studied Gandhi’s political views and ended up writing five books himself.

There were many more exciting moments while in Egypt including breathtaking vistas, lectures with the current and former heads of antiquities, meeting a TV star in Cairo producing a live broadcast and getting caught in a sand storm. The afternoon with Mrs. Sadat and her family, however, will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten everything else. The ornate rooms in Queen Nefertiti’s tomb and seeing the Sphinx at sunrise pale by comparison, the historical visit with Mrs. Sadat and the significance of President Sadat’s leadership legacy are incomparable.

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