Leadership In Turbulent Times

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin, a seasoned miner of the lives of our most notable Presidents, treks deep in the annals of history to discover and retrieve leadership gems. Kearns Goodwin has devoted her life to Presidents Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson for whom she onetime worked. 

If Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote it, I am going to read it. Her previous works are exceptional. Leadership: In Turbulent Timesis no exception to that rule. The book is divided into three parts: 1: Ambition And The Recognition Of Leadership; 2: Adversity And Growth; 3: The Leader And The Times: How They Lived. 

Reading this world-class historian is a lesson in thorough analysis and practical insight. 

5 takeaways from Leadership: In Turbulent Times:

1. Thorough analysis leads to deep observation leads to"timeless" practical principles. The pages of my copy are marked and highlighted, lesson after lesson dotting the pages. 

2. Leadership humility: LBJ's willingness to let Ev Dirksen "have a piece of the action" so the Civil Rights bill might finally pass. LBJ, for all his bravado, was about getting the job done. That's leadership.

3. Leaders make decisions: "The first hint of a signature component of what would characterize Franklin Roosevelt's fundamental style--the ability to make decisions without hesitating or looking back, coupled with a propensity to keep the process of determination hidden from view."

4. The necessity of rest: Lincoln went to the theater more than one hundred times during his presidency. "When the gas lights dimmed, and the actors took the stage, Lincoln was able to surrender his mind 'into other channels of thought.'" Lost in the moment, he would forget the war and all its cruelty. Contrast that with LBJ, who alone among her subjects, did not know how to unwind.

5. Leadership readiness: Johnson made the most of his unique time in the spotlight. "To this day, the lightning pace of th 1965 congressional session, the quality and quantity of the landmark laws it would produce, glazes the mind. . . . For this moment, Johnson had long been in readiness.

I offer only one criticism -- and mild at that. Doris Kearns Goodwin is an eminent historian. Her text reads as that of the scholar/practitioner not practitioner/scholar such as a public servant, captain of industry, or leader in the non profit sector. That issue is minor. The concepts relate!

Doris Goodwin Kearns wrote: "It is my hope that these stories of leadership in times of fracture and fear will prove instructive and reassuring." (xvi)