/The Life Lessons and Success Habits of Four Presidents — Doris Kearns Goodwin (#335)

The Life Lessons and Success Habits of Four Presidents — Doris Kearns Goodwin (#335)

(Photo by Annie Leibovitz)

“If we think this is the worst of times, history will tell you, no, we’ve had more turbulent times before, and we got through them when you had the right leader fitted for the right time.”  — Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin (@DorisKGoodwin) is a biographer, historian, and political commentator who found her curiosity about leadership sparked more than half century ago as a professor at Harvard. Her experiences working for LBJ in the White House and later assisting him on his memoirs led to her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize-winning No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. She earned the Lincoln Prize for the runaway bestseller Team of Rivals, the basis for Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film Lincoln, and the Carnegie Medal for The Bully Pulpit, the chronicle of the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Her newest book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, examines how the four presidents she’s studied most closely — Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ — found their footing. It goes all the way back to when they first entered public life and takes a look at the daily habits, tricks, and tools they used to navigate confusion, uncertainty, fear, and hope to establish themselves as leaders.


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Doris Kearns Goodwin:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


  • Doris talks about the greatest gift her father ever gave her. [08:04]
  • How Doris’ father coached her through disappointment and momentary lapses in self-confidence. [10:01]
  • Is it true that Doris was the first woman journalist allowed in the Red Sox locker room? [11:59]
  • How relaying the details of Brooklyn Dodgers games to her father helped Doris hone early storytelling chops and develop a love for history. [12:55]
  • Lessons learned from fellow historian Barbara Tuchman. [14:21]
  • On coaxing stories from her sick mother as a way to keep her young. [16:09]
  • What the best history teacher in New York state taught Doris. [17:12]
  • What steered Doris away from law and toward writing about dead presidents? [18:08]
  • Doris talks about her time working for LBJ — first at the White House and later on his ranch. [18:47]
  • What does Doris think LBJ saw in her? [23:02]
  • Why was Doris reluctant to work with LBJ full time, and what did she do when she wasn’t helping him with his memoirs? [25:25]
  • While she loved teaching, what made Doris give it up to become a full time writer? [28:19]
  • Did Doris have any moments of self-doubt in the 10-year span between her first and second book? How does she approach a new project? [29:35]
  • How did one of Doris’ books break somebody’s nose? [31:35]
  • What does Doris find most striking about Abraham Lincoln? [32:15]
  • Why does Doris believe temperament is the greatest separator in leadership? [36:23]
  • How does Doris interpret what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said about FDR? [37:44]
  • How did Lincoln develop the uncanny ability to turn opponents into friends? [38:50]
  • The importance of bringing people near us who can argue and question our assumptions. [42:22]
  • How does Doris consciously surround herself with people who have wildly divergent opinions and perspectives to speak truth to her? [43:29]
  • How does Doris suggest that such a group of people might have civil discourse about potentially polarizing topics without the conversation devolving into a shouting match? [46:26]
  • Historical examples of early mistakes, weaknesses, or roadblocks experienced by presidents and how they were overcome. [48:36]
  • How might someone gain the broader perspective to see the world through someone else’s eyes? [53:18]
  • What is the importance of a first lady? [57:24]
  • Are there any presidents or leaders Doris feels have been underrated? [59:52]
  • The time Doris tried to make a corrupt bargain with then-President Clinton. [1:01:21]
  • The anger management rituals of Abraham Lincoln and FDR in contrast to LBJ’s less subtle (and less effective) technique. [1:02:17]
  • Doris talks about the first time she got a phone call from Barack Obama to talk about Lincoln, and what Hillary Clinton said to her upon becoming Secretary of State. [1:05:43]
  • How the experiences of past leaders influence the decisions and expectations of the leaders who come later. [1:07:50]
  • What Teddy Roosevelt could teach us all about overcoming procrastination. [1:10:39]
  • What Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR could teach those of us in the 21st century about the importance of carving out time for relaxation and replenishment even during times of crisis. [1:11:30]
  • How the White House became the most exclusive residential hotel of World War II. [1:13:51]
  • As a busy person herself, what routines or tools does Doris use to rejuvenate or decompress herself? [1:16:07]
  • How one of FDR’s anxiety-busting exercises led to a solution for Britain’s supply problem prior to official US involvement in WWII. [1:18:15]
  • FDR’s twist on counting sheep to fall asleep. [1:20:07]
  • How thinking about Teddy Roosevelt’s attitude toward an election helps Doris when she finds herself worrying about her own mortality. [1:20:47]
  • Doris shares her husband’s optimism, enthusiasm, and hope even in the face of his battle with cancer. [1:21:33]
  • What inspired Doris to put the time and energy into writing her latest book? [1:25:02]
  • The lodestar that kept Abraham Lincoln from succumbing to suicidal depression. [1:27:20]
  • How the fatalism Teddy Roosevelt adopted after losing his wife and mother on the same day led him to follow a more spontaneous life. [1:28:52]
  • The insight, humility, and compassion that FDR’s struggle with polio and paralysis instilled in him. [1:29:52]
  • The near fatal heart attack that set LBJ back on a path of purpose he’d nearly forgotten. [1:31:46]
  • Case studies examining pivotal moments in these leaders’ histories. [1:33:02]
  • Where does ambition come from? [1:33:39]
  • Recommended bedtime mysteries and meeting John Grisham. [1:35:44]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:37:18]


Posted on: September 7, 2018.

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