Book review: ‘Leadership in Turbulent Times’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

“Leadership in Turbulent Times” presents four American Presidents as they dealt with the trials of their time: What made them leaders? How did they apply leadership?

“Abraham Lincoln entered the presidency at the gravest moment in American history. His temperament and absolute determination helped win the war, save the Union, and end slavery”

“Theodore Roosevelt guided his countrymen through a long battle designed to restore fairness to America’s social and economic life in the wake of the industrial revolution.”

“Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a sustained, reanimating energy to a nation suffering from the Great Depression and losing faith in democracy.”

“Lyndon B. Johnson gained office in a moment of national tragedy. HIs legislative mastery galvanized a domestic agenda that achieved more for civil rights than any leader since Lincoln.”

Goodwin’s first section deals with ambition and recognition of leadership qualities. She takes us through the early life of each president.

As Lincoln contemplated leadership, he was concerned that in trying times, men of “towering egos,” whose ambition was divorced from the people’s best interests, would try to sabotage democracy for their own ends.

Theodore Roosevelt determined that there were two types of leadership. One came from the person who had been born with the ability that no one else had — the genius. The second type was the person who developed ordinary qualities to an extraordinary degree through hard work.

Goodwin credited Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership success to his temperament. Life’s circumstances in his privileged upbringing taught him to always display a positive front regardless of what was happening; don’t worry the parents, and present everything in the best light.

Lyndon Johnson got his taste for leadership from watching his father, a successful politician in his own right. “The way you get ahead in the world, you get close to those who are the head of things …” It was philosophy that served Johnson well, as did his effort to know who those people were.

Goodwin believes that the way one responds to adversity is one of the determiners of leadership. For Lincoln, the example given is a legislative failure in the Illinois legislature that caused him to break a promise to his constituents. For Theodore Roosevelt, it was the loss of his mother and his wife within 12 hours of one another. Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and had to deal with the result for the rest of his life. Johnson suffered an election defeat early in his career that made him question his very worth. In all cases, self-examination and personal strength eventually won the day, and when opportunity presented itself, they took advantage of it.

The final section deals with leadership as it was applied in the situations described above. “Leadership in Turbulent Times” presents a fascinating picture of these men, their times and of the many faces of leadership.

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