Plowman Talks Leadership with Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin
Renowned presidential historian and best-selling author Doris Kearns Goodwin joined Chancellor Donde Plowman in conversation for the eighth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture on November 6. The two discussed how leaders throughout history have stepped forward in times of uncertainty and unrest.
Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize recipient and the author of seven New York Times best-sellers. Her most recent book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, was published in 2018 and demonstrates how the four presidents she has studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson—persevered through disruptions in their lives to become the leaders we know today. All four showed humility, empathy, and resilience.
“We respect people because of this cluster of qualities,” Goodwin said. “Some of these guys had more strengths or more weaknesses than the others, but somehow those key qualities were built.”
Throughout times of crisis such as the Civil War, World War II, and the era of the Civil Rights movement, the four presidents knew how to wait for the right time, consider opposing views, and pivot when radical change was needed.
“Lincoln became a master of timing, which is essential for any leader,” Goodwin said. “Franklin Rosevelt was able to pivot because of the polio he had earlier in his life.”
Plowman asked Goodwin which of the presidents she has studied she would choose if she could bring one of them back to lead us through the current time. Goodwin noted that each of them possessed specific leadership qualities that would apply to the issues facing our society today.
Theodore Roosevelt would find the middle ground between the extremes. Johnson would bring legislators from both parties to the White House to come up with a decision. Franklin Roosevelt would teach people to relax and replenish their energy because the pressure is so great.
“If I could only bring back one, it would have to be Abraham Lincoln,” Goodwin said. “His greatness is in his character and moral fiber, which are things we need in our leaders.”
Goodwin encouraged the audience to continue studying history, learning from the past to prepare for the future.
“These students are our future. I am very encouraged by that. We should support them and stand behind them,” Goodwin said.
The Mossman Distinguished Lecture is the most prominent series at the University of Tennessee. It is made possible through a generous endowment from the late Ken and Blaire Mossman, two UT alumni with a love for the arts, the sciences, and each other. Their legacy of curiosity continues through the series and UT’s Ken and Blaire Mossman Building.