Review: Forged in Crisis, The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, written by Nancy Koehn

Each of us will be faced with a crisis at some point in our lives. We will either lead or be led through it. Either way, author Nancy Koehn in her first book for popular audience identifies five ordinary individuals in history who persevere through their own crisis to become the leaders we are to emulate or who we would be wise look for to lead us.

Forged in Crisis, The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, written by Nancy Koehn and published by Scribner, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. is a must read.

Forged in CrisisThe author, Nancy Koehn

On CBS’ Face the Nation television program on November 26, 2017, the program gathered a leadership panel of four authors, Ron Chernow, Mark Updegrove, Robert Dallek and Nancy Koehn to discuss their new books on leadership. As my husband and I sat there sipping our morning coffee, I marveled at the contrast between the Nancy Koehn and the other authors. Ms. Koehn spoke with such passion and enthusiasm (when given the chance) about not only the topic of leadership, but the historical leaders upon which her book is based.

“I must read her book!” I commented to my husband to which I thought I had given a strong enough indicator for a great Christmas gift… obviously, I was wrong. I purchased the gift myself shortly after the Christmas holiday.

As written on the back flap of the book cover, Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School, where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. She earned her MA and PhD degrees at Harvard and has coached leaders from many organizations.

Although Ms. Koehn is not a first-time author, Forged in Crisis is her first book as I mentioned previously for ordinary readers like myself. This is not the usual history book filled with dense detail proving the author knows their stuff and the reader is forced to slog their way through, but one cleverly written in rich reverence that swept me off my feet into the world in which her subjects lived.

“Are you ready to hear the call to action contained in each of these stories? Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson have something important to offer each of us right now, as we try to craft lives of purpose, dignity, and impact. Read these stories and get to work. The world has never needed you and other real leaders more than it does now.” Page 9, Introduction

To say that I inhaled the words on the pages is an understatement.

From the first page of the Introduction to the last page of the Acknowledgements I was captivated by Ms. Koehn’s writing prowess, imagery and historical knowledge to show me how these five individuals who came from different circumstances were made to lead through the crisis at hand.

“For all the diversity among these five individuals, the threads that connect them are considerably more important. The most obvious is that these leaders were made, not born.” P437

As she shares each of their unique life stories, Ms. Koehn weaves together these threads into a remarkable tapestry the reader should view today. Throughout each chapter and particularly near the end of the chapter she coaches the reader on the relevancy of the information she presents.

The familiar and the unfamiliar

The book began with a written portrait of polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton and the book ends with ecologist, Rachel Carson. While I may not have remembered Ernest Shackleton from history class, I do remember the impact of Rachel Carlson even though I did not recognize her name. Raised on a farm in southeast Michigan, I am all too familiar with the use and the effects of the poison, DDT in the early 1970’s. The use of DDT in the military and in farming for weed control would be the reason my stepfather believed was the culprit of his multiple myeloma in which he ultimately succumbed to in 2007.

The stories of their bravery and leadership were just as intriguing as the familiar stories as the other three leaders she includes in her book. Yet even in the familiar stories of these other three individuals, Ms. Koehn breathes new insight and a fresh perspective to the historical figures of President Abraham Lincoln, Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

What makes a leader? Read Forged in Crisis and then let us have our own discussion!

Conclusion: The Power of Courageous Leadership

I find it almost prophetic on Ms. Koehn’s part to have started her work on this book project over 10 years ago and have its’ debut at such a crucial time in our history today. While I encourage readers to begin reading Forged in Crisis from page one of the Introduction to the end of the Acknowledgements, let me just say the last chapter and especially the Acknowledgements chapter give the reader an impressive glimpse into this author’s amazing research to bring what she terms her “literary child” into this world for readers to not only learn about the qualities of leadership we must all pursue but to enjoy stepping back in time to read about these fascinating historical individuals.

Judging by her impressive Harvard credentials and career, the author is no doubt a leader as a historian and leadership coach, but in this reader’s humble opinion, Nancy Koehn became an even greater leader forged from her own crisis in this ten-year writing journey. I only wish I could have been one of her students at Harvard.

Forged in crisis page markersI have page markers throughout this reference treasure, Forged in Crisis, The Power of Leadership in Turbulent Times that my husband, Vinny Sal will just have to buy his own copy (or maybe a gift for Father’s Day.)

Hoot Rating

Genre: Historical Memoirs, Business & Economics, Politics & Government

On a scale of 1 to 5 Hoots, Forged in Crisis, The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, written by Nancy Koehn earns an enthusiastic 5-Hoot Rating.

1 to 5 Hoot Scale

Happy Reading!

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Lent – In My Opinion, Part 2

In my quest for the next 40 days and beyond, I am trying to keep my unsolicited opinions to myself. Opinions that do not promote thoughtful discussion and often no one cares to know anyway.

After the Valentine’s school massacre this past week, I know I am on the right track in my Lenten pursuit. So many opinions and so much bullying on posts across social media, even from our tone deaf presidential administration, political parties and security officers has set the stage for another tug-of-war on gun ownership and the rights to bear arms.

Ummm, there I go again with an opinionated adjective…. tone deaf.

Noise

It is difficult to draw my hands away from the keyboard because we must have discussions and trade ideas “opinions” that may just help save the next massacre from happening. Yet post after post, interview after interview, and yes, even, silence, from our government leadership says a lot about our inability to communicate with one another on this topic and so many others.

I have been silent because I don’t want to be part of the ‘noise.’ (Unless, of course, you count this blog post.)

Name Calling and Bullying

All we do is talk, and talk, and talk. But all that happens when we continue to talk over one another is we become tone deaf too. We do not listen to one another. Instead of maybe accepting another person’s point of view as legitimate or at least giving them the opportunity to be understood, we entrench ourselves in our opinions often resulting in  name calling or bullying those who oppose us.

I’m guilty not on any media but I am in my head… or worse, in my heart.

Hearts and Rainbows

Some people stay away from social media. Others post hearts and rainbows as though inspirational memes might cause another to pause and reflect. And maybe the silence and spreading the love will work, or does it really mean we are figuratively throwing our hands up in the air and exclaiming, “I give up!”

Not an opinion. Just an observation.

Silently

Who is watching us?

Who is listening to us?

Who is reading what we write?

Our children and young people.

Unless I “see something, say something”  that may just save a life or protect the vulnerable, I will continue to pray that through Lent and beyond that I can become a more thoughtful and respectful person in mind, body, and spirit.

Authentic Self

 

 

Lent – In My Opinion

Lent

My husband, Vinny Sal and I were discussing the topic of the Lenten season that begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, this week. In the Christian faith, the Lenten season begins 40 days of “fasting” and often the faithful give up certain thing(s) in their life that replicates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert. It is a time of self-reflection and personal development.

In passing, I said to Vinny Sal that I would give up my coarse language or in his words, my “potty mouth.” I never use God’s name in vain, but I can let loose with the “F” word, or the “BS” word, or just “shit.” (When I as five years old, I told someone in my kindergarten class that my dad made up the word shit. I don’t know why I thought that or why I am writing about it now for that matter but I’m sure all farmers say shit for a variety of reasons.)

Vinny Sal suggested rather than giving up something negative to begin doing something positive. “But that’s not the reason for Lent, is it?” I countered. (He was raised Catholic and I was raised a Lutheran. We have these faith-based discussions often.) His reasoning was if I began something positive it may allow someone else to forgo something negative.

Which brings me to the unveiling of the Obama’s portraits

The official portraits of former President Barak Obama and former First Lady, Michelle Obama were unveiled today at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Their portraits were painted by African American artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively. The portraits garnered varying comments and opinions on social media on the artist’s renderings of the Obamas.

In response to someone’s dislike of the portraits a the social media thread, the person posted if they did not like the portraits or took the time to get to know the artists’ work, then viewers should not express their opinion. (I am paraphrasing since the original post wasn’t very kind.) I appreciate art, but I do not have an art education, nor do I know these artists or their works. But their exchange did give me pause as to the matter of expressing opinions.

Is it okay to express our opinions/critiques of an artist’s work or is it best to adhere to my mother’s advice, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

I posted this question on my own personal Facebook wall, but in retrospect I was thinking about opinions in general. As you can guess I received differing opinions.

One friend posted that she tries not to give her opinion unless asked. She reasoned that she doesn’t care about other’s opinions unless she has solicited the opinion from someone she knows/likes/respects.

Others stated that if the opinion is given “respectfully,” “constructively,” while others posted that “dialogue is good,” or “try to find a positive way to state it.” In her words, “spread the love not the hate.”

Which brings me back to our discussion on Lent

Rather than give up coarse language which Vinny says is impossible for me…. “Why would you try to give up something you know you cannot be successful in giving up? It’s the same as trying to give up eating sugar.”

I hate to say it. He’s right.

I would fail at giving up my occasional coarse language and my occasional need for a cookie.

But what I think I can do, and what I would like to do is think twice about offering my opinion without being asked.

Let me be clear. Giving up my opinions is different than giving up my values.

In other words, does my opinion further the cause of a beneficial dialogue on a topic? Or am I just offering my opinion because I am disgusted, angry, or worse, feeling hateful. Because let’s face it, there is a lot in this country and in this world that gets me disgusted, angry, and yes, hateful. When the subject challenges my values I cannot remain silent, but I can process the opinion before expressing it.

So rather than just spewing my opinion to someone or vomiting it on a social media post, I’ll think twice and ask myself these questions:

(Hopefully my friends don’t think I do that too often. The spewing and the vomiting, I mean.)

Is my opinion directed at the right audience that can do something about whatever has challenged my values?

If no, don’t.

Does anyone really care about my opinion whether it is valid or not?

If no, don’t.

Has someone asked me for my opinion?

If no, don’t.

Is my opinion beneficial to others?

If no, don’t.

While I did not post my opinions or reviews on the Obama portraits, the commentary of those who did taught me that when I come through on the other side of these next 40 days, I will be more thoughtful in my opinions, in my reviews and in my response to others.

So, what’s your opinion?