Lincoln set 'gold standard' for presidential leadership, historian says at Bucknell Forum
Doris Kearns Goodwin at Bucknell University.
Posted: October 01, 2008
Goodwin Audio Clips
LEWISBURG, Pa. – Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style and ability to build an effective “team of rivals” set a “gold standard” by which we should judge candidates running for the nation’s highest office, Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said Tuesday at Bucknell University.
Goodwin’s talk, “Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln and Their Meaning for Our Next President,” kicked off the final semester of “The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America,” a national speakers series exploring issues surrounding the election of the next president.
Lincoln “created the most unusual team in presidential history, made up of his chief rivals, each one of whom thought he should have been president instead of Abraham Lincoln, each one of whom was better educated, more experienced, more celebrated,” Goodwin told the audience at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. || Past events
“And yet he was somehow able to bring them together into a team that won the war, saved the Union and ended slavery forever. And in some ways I think his leadership style provides the gold standard of what we should be looking at as we judge our current presidential candidates.”
Based on her best-selling book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), Goodwin’s talk explored Lincoln’s inclusive approach to leadership that surprised his rivals and ultimately won their support and loyalty. He put aside his differences, Goodwin said, and placed people in positions in which they could excel and best benefit his administration and the country.
Goodwin, who has studied and written about several presidents and worked for Lyndon Johnson, said “no one is more fascinating than Abraham Lincoln” and no one’s “leadership style has greater relevance as we try to decide who our president should be.”
Goodwin described Lincoln’s childhood in which he yearned to learn everything he could but had little formal education while working on his father’s and nearby farms. She talked about how Lincoln’s early political career was marked by unpopular legislation and several tough losses in state elections.
Yet, she said, he remained determined to leave a legacy and become president. He worked harder than his opponents – who dismissed his candidacy – traveling throughout many states giving powerful speeches that inspired a following.
The night he was elected he could not sleep, Goodwin said. He decided then that he would surround himself with these same rivals who had challenged him. Asked why, Goodwin related, Lincoln said, “Look, these are the strongest and most able men in the country. The country is in peril. I need them by my side.”
Goodwin, who also recounted her experience working with Johnson on his memoir and talked about her love of baseball and the former Brooklyn Dodgers, described the qualities that made Lincoln a great leader:
He had the capacity to listen to different points of view, the ability to learn on the job and admit his mistakes, and the willingness to share credit for success while shouldering the blame for the failure of subordinates. He was aware of his weaknesses and compensated for them by surrounding himself with people who had the opposite strengths.
When Lincoln was angry or frustrated, he channeled that in productive ways. He understood the importance of relaxing and replenishing. He emphasized connecting with his soldiers, spending time with them in the field. He believed that leaders had to have the courage and integrity to remain committed to their goals, even when they were not popular. And he had an exceptional ability to communicate all of this effectively to the country.
Leaders in 2008
“I think these (leadership qualities) are important … not just as a window on the past,” Goodwin concluded. “These are the qualities we should be looking at in our leaders in 2008.”
Team of Rivals, Goodwin’s most recent book, was a New York Times best-seller and winner of the 2006 Lincoln Prize for an outstanding work about the president, the inaugural New York Historical Society Book Prize, the Richard Nelson Current award, and the New York State Archives History Makers Award. Goodwin also is the author of Lyndon Johnson & The American Dream (1976) and The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987). In 1995, she won the Pulitzer Prize for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Home Front During World War II.
Goodwin’s talk at Bucknell will air as a special presentation on WVIA, the PBS affiliate covering central and northeastern Pennsylvania, beginning Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. It will air again at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, and at noon Sunday, Oct. 26. Check local listings for details.
The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America is an ongoing national speakers series focusing on the major issues of the presidential election. It features nationally renowned leaders, scholars and commentators examining these issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints to provide a model for civil discourse.
The series, which started in fall 2007, will run through the inauguration of the new U.S. president. This final semester’s theme is “Power and the President.”
The next event is a polling event and discussion, “The Polls and the Presidency,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, in Trout Auditorium. During the event, a group of students will provide live feedback while viewing campaign materials. National polling experts will review and discuss the results of the live polling, an advance online campus survey and other national polls.
A final event to be held after the election will be announced later this semester.
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