Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I love Doris Kearns Goodwin — she is an amazing writer. She gets to the heart of any subject and draws you in. In this book — quite appropriate for our times — she profiles four American presidents whose strong leadership skills were critical in helping the country make it through a “turbulent” time. This includes: Lincoln and the Civil War (Transformational Leadership); Theodore Roosevelt dealing with the 1902 coal miners strike (Crisis Management); FDR bringing the country out of the Depression (Turnaround Leadership); and Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights Legislation (Visionary Leadership).

She poses and tries to answer the big questions: “Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Do the times make the leader or does the leader shape the times? How can a leader infuse a sense of purpose and meaning into people’s lives? What is the difference between power, title, and leadership? Is leadership possible without a purpose larger than personal ambition?” How could you not be hooked?

The book is divided into three parts: Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership; Adversity and Growth; The Leader and the Times: How they Led. She looks at each man through the lens of leadership qualities and how they are attained, developed, and used: intelligence, energy empathy, skill at dealing with people, verbal and written gifts.

Although she has written about each of these men at length in previous books (which I’ve read), I was spellbound by this new curation of the facts. Each president faced horribly difficult challenges for the country and in each case their approach brought about a (positive in my opinion) shift in thinking. Lincoln brought together a cabinet of his competitors, valuing competency and other opinions over agreement and consensus; Teddy Roosevelt with his “Square Deal” championed the concept of a president being the steward of the people, rather than the servant of Congress; FDR brought regulation to industries — particularly the banking industry — to help prevent the kind of wholesale loss that led to the Depression; and my favorite — Lyndon Johnson (not an orator by any means) making the speech championing civil rights saying “There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the issue of human rights.”

Definitely worth reading.

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