For leaders in the 21st century, there is one pressing question: What set of skills is required to lead in crisis, and can history give us answers? Our guest this week, Harvard Business School historian and professor Nancy Koehn, has surveyed some of history’s greatest leaders and made an incredible discovery: courageous leaders are not born but made, and the power to lead resides in each of us.
Nancy examined the lives of five of the greatest leaders of all time to better understand how they led through adversity and came out the other side stronger. These extraordinary individuals include: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.
In her book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, Nancy begins each chapter by showing her protagonist on the precipice of a great crisis: Shackleton marooned on an Antarctic ice floe; Lincoln on the verge of seeing the Union collapse; escaped slave Douglass facing possible capture; Bonhoeffer agonizing over how to counter absolute evil with faith; Carson racing against the cancer ravaging her in a bid to save the planet. Significantly, as we follow each leader’s against-all-odds journey, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made. In a book dense with epiphanies, the most galvanizing one may be that the power to lead courageously resides in each of us.
Join us as we learn the keys to leadership in turbulent times and the lessons we can glean from some of the most well respected individuals of all time.
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. 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.