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Leadership

In Turbulent Times

By Doris Kearns Goodwin
16-minute read
Audio available
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Leadership: In Turbulent Times (2018) examines the lives of four of the most transformational presidents in US history: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. By looking at the similarities and differences between how these men became great leaders, author Doris Kearns Goodwin provides insight into how and why they rose to the occasion at pivotal times in American history.

  • Aspiring and current leaders looking for insights into the art of leadership
  • Presidential history buffs
  • Citizens looking for role models from the past

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a presidential historian who worked as a White House Fellow and staff member of Lyndon Johnson’s administration. After he left office, she helped him write his memoirs while teaching at Harvard University for the next ten years. She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, as well as multiple bestselling books, including Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream; The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism; and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which provided source material for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln.

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Leadership

In Turbulent Times

By Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Synopsis

Leadership: In Turbulent Times (2018) examines the lives of four of the most transformational presidents in US history: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. By looking at the similarities and differences between how these men became great leaders, author Doris Kearns Goodwin provides insight into how and why they rose to the occasion at pivotal times in American history.

Key idea 1 of 10

Great leaders can come from very different backgrounds.

If great leaders were just the products of their circumstances, then we might expect their backstories to share certain key features. But when we look at the lives of the transformational presidents, we see they come from dramatically different backgrounds.

Born to an illiterate father who eked out a living on one dirt farm after another, Lincoln grew up in the backwoods of Illinois in a cabin that was initially doorless, floorless and bedless. When he was about nine years old, his father disenrolled him from school so he could work on the farm.

Lincoln then had to educate himself. He walked long distances across the countryside to borrow books from people, then read them in his few spare moments. He did this without external support; indeed, if he was caught reading when he was supposed to be working, his father would sometimes beat him and destroy his books.

Upon entering adulthood, Lincoln was basically a nobody. Striking out from home to make a fresh start in life, he settled in the town of New Salem, Illinois. Because of his height and shabby appearance, the townsfolk regarded the newcomer as a bit of a freak. Through his friendliness and good deeds, like chopping wood for widows, he eventually won them over, but it took months of building relationships to earn enough of a reputation to run for a seat in the Illinois state assembly, which marked the beginning of his political career.

Lincoln’s lack of wealth, access to education, parental support and connections stand in stark contrast to the circumstances of Theodore Roosevelt. He was born with a trust fund bequeathed to him by his grandfather, a banker, merchant and real estate mogul who was one of the five richest individuals in New York.

His father was a well-respected philanthropist who provided him with a rigorous formal education and access to an extensive family library. If there was a book he didn’t already have, his father would help him procure it.

When Theodore Roosevelt reached early adulthood, he did not need to convince local citizens of his merit to enter politics. Thanks to the power already attached to his family’s name, he was recruited to run for the state assembly of New York by the local Republican Party.

If two people from such disparate circumstances could both become transformative presidents, the keys to becoming a great leader must lie somewhere else than in one’s background.

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