Lessons from Lincoln: Adversity as a Fantastic Conscious Classroom
Lincoln's emotional awareness, that kind of explicit, reflective, conversation with himself is how he used all the adverse classrooms, from his mother’s death when he was nine to all those lost elections, to suicidal depressions.
Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn's research focuses on how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact.
Her new book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times is an enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights that will be of interest to a wide range of readers—including those in government, business, education, and the arts—Forged in Crisis spotlights five masters of crisis: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.
Koehn is the author of numerous books, articles, and Harvard Business School cases. She writes frequently for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Harvard Business Review Online. She is also a weekly commentator on National Public Radio and has appeared on many national television programs. She has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and in many other venues.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, Koehn earned a Master of Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government before taking her MA and PhD in History from Harvard. She lives outside Boston and is a dedicated equestrian.
Why did Lincoln make a great president? The most important aspect an effective leader is how he learned from his own setbacks - how he learned from failure, how he learned from shame. He consistently said to himself, "What am I to make of this moment and its disappointments that I can use later on either to avoid the mistake or to move me along a path that I believe is the right one for myself?"
That kind of emotional awareness, that kind of explicit, reflective, conversation with himself is how he used all the adverse classrooms, from his mother’s death when he was nine to all those lost elections, to suicidal depressions. There were suicidal at moments including some in the White House. How he used all those conversations with himself has more than any other factor, really has bearing on why he managed the country and himself through the Civil War in the interest of saving the union.
And then he said, "By goodness, this bloodbath has to mean something more. How do we redefine the American Experiment, the last hope of man on Earth?" So that’s a story of adversity as a fantastic conscious classroom.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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