Doris Kearns Goodwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has put together a book of four presidents who faced extreme turbulent times in American history. These presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson through their remarkable journeys through history teach us about transformational, crisis, turnaround, and visionary leadership.
A few years ago I was told by a leader that I admired, when being “reassigned” that leadership is something that you are born with, not something you can learn. She was trying to say that I did not possess leadership qualities necessary for my position and that maybe I should just go back to my passion of “music”. Although it did bother me that she said that in part because I looked up to the leadership skills I saw in her, I found very specific fallacies in her statement.
First, time after time throughout my life I had had teachers and others who “had” saw that quality within me. In eighth grade English I was chosen to be one of two leaders in the class. In English in the 7th grade, I had a teacher who put a lot of time and energy into me that encouraged me to speak. In high school, I still don’t know who, a teacher recommended my name to a leadership organization. Not to mention coworkers and colleagues throughout the years.
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Second, she missed the fact that I was an avid learner (like Lincoln I might add), I knew that books possessed the power to transform people. I knew first hand that learning changes people. If I could take something like songwriting, music, and singing (which I was horrible at) and learn to do those things by immersing myself then I could do the same in leadership. Music is much more abstract and was a whole lot more scary to learn at the time.
Third, I knew she wasn’t accounting for life circumstances. Things in our life past, present, and future events. Last couple of years I’ve had a lot of life experiences that have happened that have taught me a lot about leadership. It’s keeping your moral compass even in the tough times. It’s not afraid to say we’ve messed up, but here’s our vision and we must move forward. I may not be a Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy or Franklin D.), or Johnson, but I do know that theirs was a path to leadership that was developed by learning and life circumstances. Choosing in the end to use those life circumstances to grow instead of pull them down.
Here’s what I believe, that we are all here (those reading this blog) because we want to lead. We know there is something in us calling us to do so. The key is knowing that no other person is responsible for that calling than you. We know we can’t control what others do or don’t do. But what we can assess and grow from our past leadership choices and work through learning to become better.
Here’s a little clip from Leadership in Turbulent Times:
“Leadership tells the story of how they all met with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged better fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times. No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardship.” ¹
I know a book a week seems like a lot to some. But this is not a book club for the faint of heart. It’s one that has a heart for learning and becoming better leaders. What would a year’s worth of growing look like for you?
Vigilant Poster Girl
- Book cover from Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin