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Doris Kearns Goodwin Masterclass Review

Published by: Julia

If you want to become a better leader Doris Kearns will show you how using the examples set by the greatest American Presidents. Her masterclass is also a treat for anyone who is interested in history.

A surprisingly enjoyable history masterclass

So far, I have used my all-access pass to take 47 of the 70+ masterclasses that are available. Strangely, many of the ones I have enjoyed the most have covered subjects that I knew relatively little about.

Yet, when I came across Doris Kearns Goodwin´s American Presidents masterclass, I nearly gave it a miss. I am not much of a history buff and the fact that it also about being a good leader did not appeal either.

But, a friend of mine told me it was actually very interesting. So, I took her course and suggest that you do the same. In particular, if you have spent just $180 on buying the all-access pass. After all, with that pass, once you have taken 2 of the courses, the other 68+ courses are effectively free. So, you have nothing to lose by trying Doris´ masterclass.

Are leaders born or made?

To become a president, you have to be a leader. If you are not, you would not even be able to run for the presidency, let alone win an election.

So, it is not surprising that a lot of this masterclass is actually about what it takes to be a good leader. The way in which each of the American presidents, discussed in this course, has led the nation has been different.

How each president lead is something that Doris covered in great detail when writing her biographies and historical books about America´s most important presidents. So, unsurprisingly, over time, she has learned a lot about what it takes to be a good leader.

She begins her masterclass by endeavoring to answer the question – Are great leaders born or made?. The answer is interesting.

Doris takes you through the different qualities the presidents had as children. But, it soon becomes clear that, in the end, being an effective leader is all about hard work. Honing the talents you have and developing new skills.

Leadership is the ability to use talent, skills, and emotional intelligence to mobilize people to a common purpose.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Teaches U.S Presidential History and Leadership Masterclass

Practical takeaways at the end of every section of the course

One of the things I really liked about Doris´masterclass was that she provided important takeaways at the end of each section. They are all included in the workbook. Making it very easy to find something you want to go back over.

The role emotional intelligence plays in being a good leader

Knowing what to do in times of adversity is an essential quality for any leader. But, getting to that stage, is usually a difficult process. You normally have to experience bad times to develop and hone that skill.

Suffering and trials are a part of everyone´s life. That has certainly been the case for many of America´s greatest presidents. The example of FDR´s fight to regain at least some mobility after being paralyzed by Polio demonstrates how adversity can build the strength of character needed to become an effective leader.

Once you develop resilience the first time, it is there for you the 2nd time. It is like a muscle that has to be developed.

Doris Kearns Goodwin – Leadership Masterclass

I particularly liked the fact that, towards the end of the lesson, she shares tips that everyone can use to grow their own emotional intelligence. Here are a few examples of the skills she covers, in this way:

  • Learn from overcoming adversity
  • Hone your listening skills
  • Develop and practice empathy

How to lead a successful team

In this section, Doris mostly uses the example of Lincoln to share details of the way he chose to lead his team.

He was clearly an empathetic person, who showed appreciation and was understanding when things went wrong. For example, his Secretary of War was censured when suppliers his team had found provided shoddy goods, including guns that did not fire, to the army. Practically, everyone blamed Cameron entirely for this situation.

But, Lincoln did not. He realized that the cabinet had sped up the purchasing process to the point where it was impossible for Cameron´s team to carry out proper due diligence. Lincoln was prepared to share the blame. He knew that doing so was the only way to ensure that lessons were learned from the disaster.

Lincoln always took the time to give praise. He was a trustworthy and consistent leader. If he said he was going to do something, he did. Although, if a situation changed, and it was appropriate to do so, he would change his approach. But, when he did so, he would always provide an explanation as to why he had changed his position.

How leaders forge key partnerships

Again, using the example of Lincoln, Doris explains how important building partnerships is. At times Lincoln even ended up working with his direct rivals.

He also actively developed the ability to forgive people who had really hurt or damaged him, in the past. For example, he appointed Stanton to the war office because, at the time, he was the best person for the job. America needed Stanton´s expertise, so Lincoln overlooked the appalling way Stanton had treated him during the McCormick Reaper case.

When you take Doris’ course, you will fully understand why Lincoln’s appointment of Stanton was such a surprising, but necessary, move. You will also find out how one of America’s modern presidents did something similar.

She also demonstrates why leaders should not be afraid to hire someone who will disagree with them. People who have a different point of view. A person who will speak truth to power.

The last part of this section covers how to work out what type of team you need, at any given time. Sometimes you will need a fresh start, other times continuity will be what is needed the most.

The importance of making time to relax

Energy is not infinite, one has to replenish it, one has to figure out ways to get it back.

Doris Kearns Goodwin – American presidents masterclass

Using humor and enjoying the theatre helped Lincoln to relax. Whereas for Teddy Rosevelt it was exercise. As a child, he had asthma, so had to build himself up, which led to his love of physical exercise. The story of how a simple walk with Teddy led to The Ambassador of France having to take all of his clothes off to keep up with the president is an amusing one.

FDR relaxed by hosting a cocktail party every night, during the war years. He wanted to provide everyone with a few hours off. A safe space where the war was not mentioned at all so that everyone could truly relax and recharge.

Leaders are not superhuman, they need to be able to replenish their energy. Often, when they do take time out, they have fantastic ideas. For example, while on a fishing trip President Roosevelt came up with the lend-lease solution. He knew the UK could no longer buy weapons from them, but he realized he could give or lend them what they needed. He later did the same for other Allied Nations. In return, America was able to lease land for military bases. After the war, large items, for example, warships were returned to the USA. It was an idea that may never have come to him in the high-pressure environment he normally worked in.

The importance of making informed decisions

Nobody can get everything right all of the time. But, they can do what FDR did, which is to achieve the best batting average possible. To get it right as often as possible.

Having the confidence to make a decision is vital. You cannot go around in circles forever studying the pros and cons. Sometimes you have to just listen to what your team has told you, make a decision and have the confidence to know you can fix things later if it turns out that you were totally wrong.

LBJ´s approach when he wanted to get Medicare passed is a particularly interesting example of this ability. Doris was working at the White House, as an intern, during that time. Listening to her take on what was a very bi-partisan time was interesting and informative.

This part of the course also covers shaping public opinion. As well as knowing when to push forward with change and when to hold back and wait for a better time.

Making decisions and managing crisis

For this section, Doris explains how Teddy Rosevelt, got the coal workers and barons to talk to each other to bring an extremely long and crippling strike to an end. She explains how he used several innovative methods to change public opinion, which eventually was what forces the coal owners to sit down and talk. This practical story is a great example of how to manage a crisis and make tough decisions.

The art of communication

Over the decades, numerous presidents have given speeches that have literally changed the course of history. The two examples Doris discusses are:

  • FDR´s 2nd inaugural
  • Lincoln´s 2nd inaugural speech

Both speeches were designed to rally the nation. To move everyone to act together for the greater good.

It was especially interesting to hear how every president used the technology of the time to get their message out. She also demonstrates how each president adapted the way they delivered what they had to say for different audiences.

The takeaways for this part of the course are:

  • Lead with honesty
  • Speak directly and simply
  • Ignite and foster collective action
  • Tailor your message for your audience
  • Use technology and communication forums to the full

Finding your voice

Doris´ late husband was a presidential speechwriter. He devoted his life to civil service. During this part of her masterclass, Doris shares important excerpts of some of the speeches he wrote to demonstrate how important it is to find your voice as a leader.

Advice for aspiring historians

Doris has written widely about history, so it was great that she decided to share how she approached this important task. For me, the biggest takeaway was not to start with the end when doing your research and writing.

You know how things concluded. So, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of telling the story from the perspective of someone who knows how things turn out. That can lead to your skipping over important events and not fully covering the subject.

Tapping into archives, letters and journals helps you to truly understand what happened. You gain an understanding of how people felt, at the time, and get some insight into why certain decisions were made.

Profiles in leadership

In this short video, Doris briefly discusses how the following people became strong leaders:

  • George Washington
  • Eleanor Rosevelt
  • Martin Luther King

I was especially interested to hear about how Eleanor Roosevelt changed American society. She basically took the then purely ceremonial role of First Lady and transformed it into a platform that could be used to effect social change.

A call for everyone to become more engaged citizens

People rise to challenges. They want to help. You see this every time there is a disaster.

People empathize, they feel the pain of others and want to help. This feeling prompts them to take action. When they do, it changes their life for the good as well as that of the person they are assisting.

She also speaks, at length, about the need for us as citizens to listen to the other side. To be open-minded and seek out the truth.

The power of storytelling

When I took Neil Gaiman´s writing class, he helped me to realize that humans are hardwired to tell and absorb stories. That is why they have such power.

Listening to and telling stories is good for the soul, especially when they are true ones. They teach you so much and enable you to connect with people in a powerful and long-lasting way. The best leaders understand this, so become good at storytelling.

Doris Kearns Goodwin masterclass workbook

The workbook that accompanies this masterclass is exceptional. If you were to print it off or keep it on the device, it would make an excellent point of reference.

Most of what Doris covered in her videos is included in the workbook. But, if I have a criticism, it is that her last few lessons were not included in the workbook. Exactly why that is, I am not sure. It may be because the last few videos were not about leadership.

They were more about Doris´ outlook on life and what her study of history has taught her. Personally, I enjoyed these videos too, even though they were not strictly related to the core theme of the masterclass. They were still interesting and thought-provoking.

Each of the qualities and leadership strategies outlined during the masterclass is listed out in the workbook. Along with a succinct summary of what you can do to develop each skill and use them to lead more effectively.

A teacher who really cares about her students

One of the things I like about the masterclass platform is the fact that there are plenty of ways for you to ask questions. This enables you to build on what you have just learned. One of the ways you can do this is to become an active part of the community forum that is provided with each course.

Now, each masterclass has one, but to be honest the level of feedback you actually get varies quite a bit. Some of the experts are better than others at following through.

I am happy to report that Doris Kearns Goodwin, seems to follow through. She has taken her own advice and gone the extra mile to help others.

For example, within a few weeks of her masterclass being released, she set up and ran a live video class. That is quite a bonus and another reason I highly recommend this particular masterclass. The level of support she offers to her students is exceptionally high.

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