What Four Legendary Presidents Can Teach You About Leadership

There are a lot of great books about leadership out there. Many reputable sources publish dozens of new books on the topic every year, which highlight the most modern operational processes, proposals, and analytics. There really is an endless mine of information to tap into, but there is one downside to this fact: If rules and ideas about effective business leadership are always changing, then how do you know which model is best to follow in your own business?

What Four Legendary Presidents Can Teach You About Leadership

Well, when someone writes a great leadership book about four incredible leaders of the past, you don’t have to worry that their philosophies or successful practices will change. What’s even better about these types of books is that you can also see the positive long-term effects of their practices, so you can determine the results you want to aim for. That’s the beauty behind Leadership in Turbulent Times.

Owning your own business is far from easy in the best of times, but in periods of political and economic uncertainty, it can feel impossible. So, how is a leader supposed to find success in an often chaotic world? Well, if four of our country’s greatest leaders found a way, then they must have some answers. 

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has dedicated her academic life to studying four of America’s most pivotal leaders. She’s written best-selling and critically acclaimed books on the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Her latest work, Leadership in Turbulent Times, examines all four extraordinary men and the incredible challenges they steered the nation through. This work is already a favorite among critics and politicians alike; Goodwin shares history lessons that no entrepreneur can afford to miss.

What’s In It For You?

We can learn a lot from great leaders in any field. That goes for business, politics, sports, and almost any field you can imagine. But the Latin writer Publilius Syrus really put things into perspective when it comes to choosing which heroes to admire when he said, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

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A business is easier to lead when things are going well. So, what happens when things inevitably start going topsy-turvy? What do you do if your business faces hard times while your personal life is also in a rough patch? Goodwin’s book poses that there’s no one right answer for solving those problems, but we can learn valuable lessons from people who have navigated successful leadership during the most tumultuous times in their lives.

This also isn’t your basic run-of-the-mill history book. Leadership in Turbulent Times has been hailed as a page-turner. Any study on four titanic leaders in American history would be worth paying attention to for leadership advice, but Goodwin’s well-crafted prose prevents Leadership from feeling like homework. Events pop off the page, and the portrait she paints of each leader is profoundly personal. We see Lincoln’s struggle with depression, Theodore’s loss of his mother and wife on the same day, FDR’s battle with polio, and LBJ’s manic moods before we see their triumphs.

That’s the first lesson any leader can take away from Goodwin’s work: Even the greatest leaders are human. Goodwin doesn’t deify her subjects — instead, she draws attention to their foibles and personal struggles. It’s these flaws and struggles, the historian argues, that helped prepare each president for the national challenges of their time.

What Can They Teach Us?

By showing the reader the steps these important historical figures went through to get them to their highest peaks, Goodwin gives aspiring leaders a look at business practices from an unusual perspective. Part I of the book explores the upbringing and emergence of ambition in each man. Part II analyzes the loss and failure they each experienced, and how they grew from it. Part III finally breaks down their periods of accomplishment, especially during their presidential terms, and highlights key points they reached to achieve those accomplishments. 

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This book is a must-read for any entrepreneur or business leader because of how it humanizes what we do. It proves that even the most influential behemoths are not perfect, and in fact, never get anywhere close. But it’s their ambition to keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles ahead, that gets them where they desire to go.

There’s No Simple Answer

Goodwin can’t provide a simple answer to how leaders conquer adversity in the pages of Leadership in Turbulent Times. She writes, “There was no single path that four young men of different backgrounds, ability, and temperament followed to the leadership of the country.” Four presidents took four radically different approaches to turbulent times. But just because they were each different doesn’t mean they weren’t each successful. Anyone who resolves to think critically about their own leadership style should put this at the top of their reading list.

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