5 min read

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin — My Notes

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin — My Notes

Get the book from Amazon.

Idea of book

Leadership stems from a motivation to do work for a purpose. Modern internet use can help you build businesses that create purpose and meaning for people, a following that they are leading, with only one person at the helm. At some point, to scale, people need a team, and they need to lead the team. Can a person be the greatest leader if they don’t have a team? If you have a one-person company that has a purpose and can operate as a monopoly.


Below are my top notes and highlights from the book. If you have the Kindle version of the book available, you can use the links below to go to the exact location in the book.

Note: highlights were collected and processed using Readwise. Couldn’t read a book without it 🙂


His nature made him lovable

How was Lincoln able to establish himself so quickly in the minds of the residents that within eight months they encouraged him to run for a seat in the state legislature? The answer, one local man explained, lay in Lincoln’s sociability, his “open—candid—obliging & honest” good nature. “Everybody loved him.” (Location 275)

On Lincoln’s ambition

When Speed warned Lincoln that he must somehow revive his spirits or he would assuredly die, Lincoln replied that he was more than willing to die, but that he had “done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” The greatest passion he harbored, he confessed to Speed, was “to link his name with something that would redound to the interest of his fellow man.” (Location 1865)

Using tragedy and comedy to reflect

His appreciation of tragedy was matched by his appreciation of silliness, anecdote, burlesque. The narrow seam between tragedy and comedy afforded Lincoln what he called his “literary recreation.” When engaged in a comic tale, his laugh, the artist Carpenter noted, resembled the “neigh of a wild horse.” (Location 4132)

Take many small steps to achieve something, never rush

“It is my conviction that, had the proclamation been issued even six months earlier than it was, public sentiment would not have sustained it,” Lincoln later said. “Just so, as to the subsequent action in reference to enlisting blacks in the Border States. The step, taken sooner, could not, in my judgment, have been carried out. A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!” (Location 4203)

For Lincoln, wrestling with thought was no figure of speech; it was an exhaustive mental combat from which he emerged with confidence and clarity. It had been a tortuous ordeal to make up his mind, but he now felt confident that his lengthy decision-making process had yielded the right course and that the country would be ready and willing to follow him. (Location 4215)

Teddy Roosevelt

Getting in with people immediately, anywhere he went

“He was different from anybody I had ever met,” Sewall said. “Wherever he went, he got right in with the people,” connecting with them, talking with them, enjoying them, without the slightest trace of condescension. (Location 662)

Using the public sentiment as a tool

“He talks, talks, talks, all the time. Scarcely a day passes that there is not something from him in the papers.” Politically at odds and filled with personal animosity, Parker failed to understand that for Roosevelt publicity was not merely the craving to bask in the focused glare of public attention; public sentiment was his single most potent instrument for driving change. (Location 2524)

Turning every stone to get to a solution

His unprecedented call for a face-to-face meeting with the opposing sides, his refusal to “sit supinely by” after the conference failed, his readiness to take drastic action even though he knew it would produce a serious backlash, the involvement of J. P. Morgan that made the invasion moot, the absurdity of the struggle over nomenclature, until, finally, resolution was reached. (Location 4893)


Through adversity and a shared community of victims, FDR became stronger

He had developed a different concept of leadership. The deep affection and respect accorded him from the shared community he had created at Warm Springs made it clear that a polio victim who needed help to walk was fully able to exercise leadership of the highest order. He had made a separate peace with his recovery and in his heart was ready to recommence with a life fully in the public glare. (Location 3204)

FDR experimented to fix his polio. So he applied experimentation to fix the country.

As Roosevelt campaigned for the presidency, he built on his own long encounter with adversity: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” (Location 3334)

Showing what others have done and what he can do to deal with issues in the country.

Here he harked back to the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation as an executive order based on his powers as commander in chief, and to Theodore Roosevelt who saw himself as “steward of the people,” an office giving him the warrant to do whatever the people needed unless expressly forbidden by the Constitution or the laws. This was no dictator or Messiah holding forth. Franklin Roosevelt spoke in the name of the people for a resurgence of the strength of democracy, for a constitutional system capable of meeting “every stress” without losing its essential form. (Location 5021)


Got immediately to work on anything, didn’t wait or linger

Before he had publicly announced, before he had even sent in his resignation from the NYA, Johnson “walked out on the street, and he immediately, first person we passed, stuck his hand out and said, ‘I’m Lyndon Johnson. I’m running for Congress.’ I bet he shook hands with fifty people before we got to his car.” (Location 1682)

He kept his speeches short. “A five minute speech,” he pointed out, “with fifteen minutes spent afterward is much more effective than a fifteen minute speech, no matter how inspiring, that leaves only five minutes for handshaking.” (Location 1702)

Stories changed people, the had meaning

Lyndon Johnson, like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, knew that people were “more easily influenced” by stories “than any other way,” that stories were remembered far longer than facts and figures. (Location 5702)

Bottoms up approach

“My experience in the NYA,” Johnson recalled, “taught me that when people have a hand in shaping projects, these projects are more likely to be successful than the ones simply handed down from the top.” (Location 5948)

Get the book from Amazon.