Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Leadership: In Turbulent Times

December 2020

"Leadership: In Turbulent Times" by Doris Kearns Goodwin

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.

The title alone certainly makes this book relevant to nonprofit leaders in 2020. While the historical highlights were familiar around each of the four presidents Goodwin profiles in Leadership in Turbulent Times, she provides a fascinating study of the personal leadership strategies each employed during especially challenging personal and professional moments in their lives. These insights are especially valuable for nonprofit leaders as they translate very effectively to the present day while still providing timeless reminders of the brilliance of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Of course, each of these presidents had insecurities and failures too, and the personal nature of Goodwin's profiles makes the advice much more accessible as compared to a historical study of the complex- often global - issues they were trying to manage. The author organizes the book into three parts, with the first part detailing their early lives and the influences that shaped their leadership styles. The second part parallels the four leaders as they grappled with initial adversity before achieving their ultimate leadership positions as president. I found the third section most instructive, because Goodwin provides a case study from each president's tenure which exemplifies their leadership style. She highlights specific tactics and strategies each employed, and these anecdotes become excellent take-aways for the reader. It was also reassuring to see that there is no single way to succeed at leadership. 


  1. The value of mentors. Each of the presidents identified and cultivated mentors for advice and counsel, and often identified with their presidential predecessors profiled in the book. FDR learned much from Teddy, and LBJ based most of his political philosophy on FDR. 
  2. The importance of study. All four were voracious readers and consumers of knowledge, especially history. They recognized the differences of their current situation, but were better able to innovate based on the "comparative research" they had already done through their study. 
  3. The power of storytelling. All four were gifted storytellers which helped them frame complex issues in a clear manner for large scale communications, but were also particularly adept (and tireless) at translating their stories in a manner that would positively influence an individual they needed to support their cause.

Leadership in Turbulent Times will bring much to your nonprofit leadership study, as each of the remarkable and history-defining stories are broken down into clearly illustrated personal stories of leadership. Yes, you'll learn more about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Teddy Roosevelts' Coal Strike Crisis, FDR's New Deal, and LBJ's Civil Rights legislation, but you'll learn even more about leadership strategies that will help you confront the challenges that exist on your career journey. 

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a presidential historian, international keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times #1 best-selling author and a partner in Pastimes Productions.  She is an American biographer, historian, former sports journalist and political commentator.