This year’s Flora Cameron lecture at Trinity University became commemorative with the unfortunate passing of Flora Cameron Crichton on March 2 of this year. Before her passing, Crichton was able to select Doris Kearns Goodwin as the speaker for the lecture. Goodwin is a presidential historian, political commentator and award-winning author/biographer. She spoke on her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, a New York Times bestseller on March 27 in Laurie Auditorium.
“Little could I have imagined how relevant that title would be today,” joked Goodwin at the beginning of the lecture. However, she switched to a more serious demeanor and contemplated a question that she is often asked: ‘are these the worst of times?’ “The answer history provides is no,” said Goodwin in answer to the question. She pointed to and referenced many American Presidents, but focused on Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. She highlighted the “turbulent times“ that all these men faced, such as the civil war and industrial revolution, and stated that “each one of these situations cried out for leadership, and each of the four men was peculiarly fitted for the time.”
Goodwin shifted her focus to the qualities that make up leaders. She pulled a Teddy Roosevelt quote in which he said, “most success comes when people develop ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree from hard sustained work.” This she acknowledged as being a key to success but not a universal key to leadership. She made a list of qualities that are almost universally applicable, “humility, empathy, resilience, courage, the ability to listen to diverse opinions, controlling of impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep[ing] one’s word.” Goodwin went into great detail on how her studied presidents portrayed these qualities and acknowledged that there is not just one key to being a successful leader.
Nearing the end of her lecture she recalled a quote from Leo Tolstoy about Lincoln. “He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he wasn’t as great a statesman as Frederick the great. But his greatness consisted in the integrity of his character and the moral fiber of his being, the ultimate standard for judging our leaders.” She concluded that it wasn’t necessarily the triumphs of a leader that determined their success, but the effect they have as people, on people.
Goodwin closed with a touching and powerful personal anecdote on why history came to interest her and why it is so important. She thanked history for “allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back in the past, allowing me to believe in the pride and people we have lost and love in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on, so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.”
Photo by “Rhododendrites” on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)