E203-Header Image - Current-Day Lessons from Historical Leaders

203. Current-Day Lessons From Historical Leaders – with Moshik Temkin

About this Podcast

Ep. 203 – Do great leaders make history, or does history make great leaders?

Whether it’s a political upheaval like what Napoleon faced, an economic depression as with Roosevelt, or a company facing an existential challenge, great leaders have historically grasped these moments as opportunities for significant change.

In fact, the desire to bring about positive change and make a difference is a common thread among all outstanding leaders. But while studying successful leaders offers valuable lessons, learning from past failures can be equally insightful.

In this episode, Ramona and guest, Moshik Temkin, have a captivating conversation full of engaging stories about historical leaders, both the successful and some very unsuccessful events that have shaped the world we live in today.

Moshik is recognized as a distinguished professor who has significantly contributed to the fields of leadership and history. His expertise has led to teaching positions at reputable institutions, including Harvard. Temkin’s scholarly essays and articles have garnered attention in esteemed publications including The New York Times, The Nation, Journal of Democracy, The New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. His recent book, Warriors, Rebels, and Saints: The Art of Leadership from Machiavelli to Malcolm X, is a comprehensive examination of historical leadership that has been praised for its depth and insight into the journeys of past leaders.

One of our favorite quotes from the show: “I think what they had in common is that they spoke their truth. They were not concerned with whether people liked them or not. In fact, they understood that sometimes, and this might not be a pleasant thing to say, but sometimes, really, transformational leadership means that you are going to alienate people, some people, and you are going to create enemies. And Franklin Roosevelt himself said to the American people, he said, I want you to judge me by the enemies that I have made.”

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Episode 203 Transcript:

0:00:00 Ramona Shaw: Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. Today I have a guest with me. He’s a special guest. I’m going to talk about leadership and history, which I don’t think we’ve talked about on the podcast before. So I’m very excited about this conversation. My guest is Moshik Temkin. He is a professor of leadership and history and has taught at universities including Harvard and Columbia and many others around the globe.

0:00:25 Ramona Shaw: His articles and essays have been published in the New York Times, Nation, Journal of Democracy, New Republic, and the Los Angeles Time. He also recently published a book called Warriors, Rebels and Saints the Art of Leadership from Machiavelli to Malcolm X. It is a deep dive into history and leadership, and if this is something that interests you, I recommend checking it out. In preparation for this conversation, I went through the book and it is truly comprehensive and seems to me like a masterpiece of collecting stories and events from past leaders and how they became to be the leaders that they were and what kind of decisions did they make and how did they show up as leaders that then either led to their success or the success of whatever they were leading or the demise of that.

0:01:16 Ramona Shaw: The conversation that I’m having with Moshik is one that is different from what we usually cover on the podcast, and with that, I can’t highlight enough of how thought-provoking and inspiring it is to listen to Moshik, and I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did when recording it. If this is your jam, check out the show notes where we will link to his website and to his book. With that said, let’s dive in and welcome Moshik to the show.

0:01:43 Ramona Shaw: Here’s the question. How do you successfully transition into your first official leadership role, build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization? That’s the question, and this show provides the answer. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shaw, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection and fulfillment. And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows.

0:02:18 Ramona Shaw: In the show, you’ll learn how to think, communicate, and act as the confident and competent leader you know you can be.

0:02:25 Ramona Shaw: Thank you so much for joining us on The Manager Track podcast. It’s great to have you here.

0:02:30 Moshik Temkin: Thank you so much for having me.

0:02:31 Ramona Shaw: So I’m going to dive right in because I know we have a lot to cover. In our conversation today, you have a wealth of knowledge, which I was able to see by going through your book that you wrote, which, of course, will link to the show notes as well. And I want to dive right into that conversation. Or that question of why is it important for people listening to this or watching us to know and to learn about leaders and leadership of the past.

0:02:58 Ramona Shaw: Why is this relevant for us today?

0:03:00 Moshik Temkin: Well, first of all, thanks for having me, and thanks for that great question. And I get that a lot. Why do we need to know history? The past is the past. We live in the present. We’re thinking about the future. Well, the thing is, the past is never quite past. We are always connected to the past. Because I’m a historian, I’m very aware of all the ways that our world today is shaped by history. So we’re not separate from the past. In order to understand our world, in order to understand the challenges that we face today, we have to see how those were created, what produced them, what decisions were made, what kind of leaders did we have that created the situations that we face today, who came before us?

0:03:41 Moshik Temkin: So that’s one reason, I think, which is very basic reason why we need to know history in order to understand leadership, but also to be good leaders and to understand the world that we’re in, the challenges that we face. The other is that we learn from people’s experiences. So anybody who wants to be a good leader is going to say, well, let’s see who has been here before, who has faced in the past a situation that is comparable to the situation that I’m in now, who has been faced with a challenge or a crisis?

0:04:16 Moshik Temkin: And what did they do in that situation? And so by examining history, you look at leaders in the past, and you say, well, this leader succeeded. This leader maybe failed. Maybe this leader had mixed results. History becomes our best laboratory, if you will, for really testing situations. And so by learning from the past, we kind of see how to function better in the present and in the future.

0:04:42 Ramona Shaw: Now, when you wrote your book, you did a lot of research on past leaders. What were some of the things that you discovered and found really interesting about decisions leaders made or certain behaviors or leadership styles that then turned into either successes or failures?

0:05:01 Moshik Temkin: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. Every time I teach, I should say this book, warriors, rebels and Saints, comes from years of teaching a course, first at Harvard and then elsewhere in the world called leaders and leadership in history. And in the first minute of the first day of every time I teach the course, no matter where I am. I ask a simple question. I ask, do leaders make history, or does history make leaders?

0:05:33 Moshik Temkin: Because the reality is that any important leader that you take in history or even leaders that we have today, you can see how they changed history, how they changed the world, but you also see how they came about, how they rose to the situation, how they were created, where they came from, what they learned, who their families were, what kind of crises existed that allowed these leaders to enter into the leadership position in the first place.

0:06:05 Moshik Temkin: So I think overall, I struggled myself with this question. I asked the students to think with me, and I ask readers to think with me and to see whether we can identify the history making the leaders as being more important or leaders making history being more important. And the reality is, maybe this is a sad answer, that I don’t think there is a clear answer. I think we live in a world in which any leader out there knows that they’re trying to change things, but it can be difficult because the circumstances are so powerful, the structures are so powerful, the things that existed before we, even sometimes before we were born, but certainly before we became leaders, are in place.

0:06:49 Moshik Temkin: So how do we maneuver in these kinds of situations? So what I learned is that the story of leadership is often the story of how much you can stretch these constraints, how much can you do, given the sometimes very difficult circumstances that leaders find themselves in.

0:07:08 Ramona Shaw: I heard, and I forgot who said this, but someone say, if Napoleon were born today, he would immediately rule the world. And it reminds me know, we don’t know. Sure, but it reminds me of what you’re saying, you know with Napoleon specifically in the time that he came up. Yes. Maybe the way that he was raised and his fathers and the whole story around the decisions that he made early on helped him or positioned him to then take on the position that he did, but also the ability to resist giving into circumstances or really seeing your capability and believing that you can make things change, probably what would translate into today’s world and would help him succeed, no matter the age that he was born. And that immediately then translates into how today’s leaders that want to advance and really have an impact and create change, what kind of mindset is going to be necessary for them? Can you reflect?

0:08:15 Moshik Temkin: Yeah, that’s a great speculation. What would Napoleon be if you were alive today? It’s hard to say. Maybe he would be as you said, maybe he would rule the world. Maybe he would be selling insurance, maybe he would be a used car salesman. I don’t know, but it’s possible. I think when we look at a really important leader like Napoleon, and he was important in his time. We also have to acknowledge the importance of timing.

0:08:42 Moshik Temkin: So every leader that you look in history and leaders that we have today, you look at their characteristics, you look at their individual qualities. Napoleon, a very natural leader, especially a military leader, he also had to have a crisis to help him along the way. And in his case, it was a crisis of absence of leadership. There had been a revolution in France that had overthrown, for those interested in Napoleon, they had overthrown centuries of a political system with a very powerful king, monarchy that’s overthrown. And then there’s chaos, there’s civil war.

0:09:25 Moshik Temkin: The revolution goes on and on. And meanwhile, there are other nations, other countries that are threatening at your borders. So at some point, people will turn in a crisis like that to a leader, sometimes a powerful leader, sometimes even a tyrannical leader, and say, lead us, help us, especially if you can make us even stronger than we were before. So I think you can’t understand Napoleon, not just with his personality, not just with his upbringing, not just with his self confidence, which was incredible, but also with the timing, the circumstances. Right.

0:10:09 Moshik Temkin: Maybe Napoleon 20 years before, 20 years later, very different result. That’s what’s fascinating about history, right? I’m not saying it’s all about timing. I think you have to understand it as a meeting point between Napoleon as an individual with all his characteristics and the time that he is at the right age, at the right place, at the right moment, in the right circumstances. And it’s that meeting that really creates the Napoleon that we know today.

0:10:40 Ramona Shaw: Right. Can you talk a little bit about what leaders today can learn from this situation? Why is this meaningful?

0:10:49 Moshik Temkin: Do you mean Napoleon situation or any situation?

0:10:52 Ramona Shaw: Right. Maybe the Napoleon situation, the crisis that sort of empowered or enabled him.

0:11:00 Moshik Temkin: Yeah, okay. I think not everyone can, even in a position of leadership, can be a Napoleon, have that kind of power. But we can learn a little bit about taking advantage of a crisis situation. So I think Napoleon, in that sense, Napoleon is, he’s a unique individual as a leader, but he’s not a unique case, because I think a lot of really important, transformative, impactful leaders, whether in politics or in business or in any walk of life, they recognize the possibility for change.

0:11:42 Moshik Temkin: They see opening. They say, well, here there is a void. There’s an absence of leadership. Maybe you have, it could be a company that’s in chaos. It can be a society that has problems. It can be an economic crisis. There have been many cases in history where you have leaders who identify that path to influence, to power. So just another example that is actually in the book, the Great Depression, which was, of course, hit the United States at the end of 1929, lasted for at least a decade, and then impacted the whole world, was a massive economic crisis. Even today, I don’t think people understand just how bad it was.

0:12:32 Moshik Temkin: And when you have, as we see today, when you have economic crisis, then you also have social crisis and you have political crisis. And people in a situation of crisis when they’re scared, when they’re in anxiety, when they’re angry, when they’re worried, they’re worried about themselves, they’re worried about their families, how they’re going to take care of their families, their children, their loved ones, and so on.

0:12:57 Moshik Temkin: Then it’s really interesting to see who do they seek out as a leader? Who do they turn to in that kind of situation and what we’re saw? Well, we see different kinds of people sometimes. Unfortunately, in Europe, for example, as a result of the Great Depression, a lot of people turned to leaders who led them to war, violence, destruction, genocide.

0:13:23 Ramona Shaw: Why did they turn to them?

0:13:24 Moshik Temkin: Because they were offering them solutions. They identified culprits, they proposed solutions and then promised them redemption, greatness, success, to thrive. Of course, they were often addressing specific publics. And in this case, if you think of a Hitler or Mussolini or others like that, they were targeting particular groups in the society and saying, those people are the ones who are responsible for your misfortune.

0:13:53 Moshik Temkin: So if we take care of those people, you’ll be good. Now, we also had other leaders at the time in the United States. The president was Roosevelt, who was elected in 1932, and then he was elected on a total of four times because he really met that crisis. He was able to identify the crisis, to address the needs of people, to convince a majority that he was taking care of them. And he was able to do it while guarding the main parts of the system, capitalism, democracy, the american system.

0:14:30 Moshik Temkin: And a lot of historians, myself included, believe that if there hadn’t been that specific leader coming in at that time, then the United States might have gone in the direction of the Soviet Union or other fascist countries in Europe and had a total political collapse. So that’s why we have to understand the leaders who identify a crisis. They can be positive, they can be negative, but what they have in common is that they rise in a moment of crisis and people turn to them in that crisis.

0:15:00 Ramona Shaw: And what I’m really hearing and if I think about someone listening who is in an organization, they may be dealing with cuts of resources or layoffs, or just strategic challenges and a sort of shift in market environments that create a bit of uncertainty on their team. Or maybe there’s a lack of vision, a lack of that. Paint the solution and show me how we get out of this situation. Like you said, there’s leaders who mean are ill intended or don’t go about it the right way, but the commonality and that what we can learn from this is the clarity of the solution, directly addressing the problem.

0:15:45 Ramona Shaw: And then that sentiment of I’m picking up like sentiment of hope, confidence, and reiterating that future, painting that future picture. It’s almost like people need that way more than for them to really understand what you’re going to do to get there. They prioritize. Knowing you’re going to get somewhere better is way important, more important than the details of how you’re going to do this.

0:16:09 Moshik Temkin: Yes, I agree. I think that people in a situation of crisis, whether it’s in an organization, if you’re thinking about that, let’s say the business world, or in a management situation, but also in political or social situations like I just described, they want a leader who is calm but not indifferent and certainly not inactive. So that’s a fine line. You need that steady hand, but you don’t want. Certainly in a situation of crisis, people will not resonate with a leader who is seemingly paralyzed or aloof or indifferent.

0:16:59 Moshik Temkin: But on the other hand, they really want a leader who is both calm and active. Action is very important. Okay, we’re going to do something. We’re going to act. We’re going to be active. We’re not going to be inactive. But then the action people will then say, okay, is there a direction that we’re going in here? Is it random? Is it just action for the sake of action? Or is it action that is leading somewhere? So I think it’s that combination of calm, action and purpose.

0:17:31 Moshik Temkin: And I think people are smart enough, especially in high-quality outfits, organizations, to identify the differences between real problems and fake problems, to recognize what is at the source of the challenge that we’re facing. Let’s say it’s a market problem, or it’s a problem of manpower, or it’s a problem that sometimes the problems are beyond our control because they might be global problems, they might be all kinds of things that happen at the outside of our organization, but there are certain things that we can control, maybe certain things that we can’t.

0:18:08 Moshik Temkin: I think that people will respond well to a leader who is identifying problems in an honest way and saying, look, here is what we need to address, and here is how I intend to, or we intend to address the problem. And so that combination works. Well, just to go back to my previous example, the president of the United States at the time that the Great Depression started was Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover was actually considered to be, in the time of stability and peace, was considered a great manager and a very talented person. He was actually very admired and popular president.

0:18:47 Moshik Temkin: But when crisis hit, he turned out to be the wrong kind of leader for the crisis. He’s more of a leader for stable times, whereas Roosevelt turned out to be the kind of leader who responded very well to a crisis. So whereas Hoover was calm, but also perceived to be aloof and indifferent and inactive, Roosevelt was also calm but perceived to be very active, purposeful, energetic, and addressing real problems.

0:19:16 Ramona Shaw: Yeah, and you’re calling out real problems. One thing that I see when I notice a team has or moves into the direction of losing trust on the team is when the leaders of the team or an organization seem like they’re being active, but they’re addressing sort of maybe low hanging fruit, or they’re addressing things that are more symptoms than root causes. And people know this. Like you said, people are smart enough. They realize it’s almost like they’re pretending to be active, but they’re not hearing us. And then I no longer trust that can actually lead us out of this crisis out or through this change because of that.

0:19:57 Moshik Temkin: You could see situations where someone in a position of leadership will scapegoat someone. Right? They’ll say, oh, this person. And as it happens, it’s someone who, it’s a kind of a low risk situation to cut that person loose or say, well, actually, it all boils down to this. People will say, really, we seem to have deeper problems than just this one person. That doesn’t seem to be particularly important. Maybe the real problem cuts closer to home. Maybe it has to do with your leadership. Maybe it has to do with something, really at the heart of the organization, the way that policy was shaped. And again, that applies in the world that you’re addressing now. But also in what I study, when I look at political history or political leadership or military or economic, you see that leaders sometimes have to make these tough choices now of saying, well, actually, the problem is a very big problem, and it has only a long term solution.

0:21:02 Moshik Temkin: The problem is that we live in a world today where long-term solutions are very low reward, high risk, low reward for a lot of leaders. That’s true. I think in the business world, it’s true in the political world where someone will come and say, look, guys, we have a problem and it’s a serious problem. It’s going to take ten years, maybe more to figure out. People are like, come on, I don’t have ten years. That’s my career.

0:21:28 Moshik Temkin: Or I’m already at an age where in ten years I’m thinking about, I’m going to be thinking about retirement, or actually I might not be here anymore. So I think that sometimes leaders will say, play it safe. They’ll say, well, I’m going to fix these little, I’m going to put out fires and just survive. And then they don’t really address core problems and eventually kind of blows up in people’s faces. And again, Ramona, I’m just going to make that know. A lot of my students are from the private sector, the business world, the corporate world, and I don’t lecture, not talking directly about that world. But even when I talk about political history or economic history, they recognize situations where they say that is actually a lot like what happens in our organizations where you have leaders who don’t address the long term problems, they address short term problems. So to give you just one very obvious example, it’s become politically controversial. But I’ll say it anyway.

0:22:37 Moshik Temkin: If we take seriously the issue of environmental degradation, of climate and what’s obviously happening to our planet, to anyone serious who’s paying attention, and I don’t want to even include spin and all kinds of other things, but really what the science is telling us. So there are leaders who have to make choice. Do I tell people the truth? Which is that we have to sacrifice a lot of things that we have to really make serious new priority changes that people might not like because it’s going to affect their way of life, their quality of life, and things like their wealth, things like that, I might not survive politically if I do that. So instead I’m just going to touch on surface level things, or I’m just going to address superficial aspects or even just gesture at change rather than create real change.

0:23:33 Moshik Temkin: That’s why we see this phenomena in the world where a lot of the times, the leadership on really important issues that concern the whole planet are left in the hands of activists or sometimes even children who have no power. And they’re not really our leaders. They’re actually children. Children should never be our leaders. But the people who actually have power and are the leaders, they often do very little because they can’t risk it. They’re inside situations where it’s just not worth it to them personally.

0:24:07 Moshik Temkin: And so we can just keep kicking problems down the road. And this applies at the global level, but it also applies, I think, for people inside organizations or companies where they see this person’s just trying to get through the year, just trying to get to the two years, move on to the next job, survive, get the promotion. Meanwhile, problems just continue and sometimes deepen.

0:24:31 Ramona Shaw: Right now, when we hear that we obviously don’t want that or we don’t want to be that kind of leader. But you’re right, that’s how the system is set up in terms of the presidents we vote for, their approval ratings, the CEOs and their compensations, the promotions within organizations for leaders and all of that. What is a way out? What is a solution or an attitude or a set of values or principles that you may have seen in leaders who have actually addressed the hard problems that we can learn from and adapt?

0:25:06 Moshik Temkin: Yeah, I think say a couple of things. One is we have to think about how we measure and assess success. So I actually start my book with my impressions of whenever I travel a lot. So when I travel, I’m in an airport, I have a connecting flight. I have to wait 3 hours, whatever, 4 hours. So what am I going to do? Sometimes I wander into the bookstore, I go to the airport bookstore and I go to the shelf.

0:25:33 Moshik Temkin: There’s books on leadership leaders, and it’s very often books about winners, success, and it’s very individual success, right. And then I open it up and it looks at people as almost extremely powerful, able to do things almost at will through sheer force of personality and will and intelligence. And I think there’s room for that. I think we have to recognize people’s individual qualities, but I really think that we have to understand leadership and success in a much more collective way. We have to understand ourselves and acknowledge the ways that we are connected to other people, even as leaders.

0:26:19 Moshik Temkin: That you really need a core group around you that you empower, that give you good advice, that will protect you, help you through these crises. So, for example, you’re able to then take risks of trying to address long term problems, to be brave, to be honest, because you’ve created a group around you, or you have a team around you that is with you and not just believes in you, but also kind of shares your vision and understands the problems in the same ways that you understand the problem. So again, my interpretation of this is that, and this might sound a little philosophical almost, but we really live in a very individualistic society.

0:27:10 Moshik Temkin: We place a premium on the individual. And while it’s true that we are, or at least we like to think that we are, uniquely special individuals with our own qualities and our own histories, we really have a lot in common, even physically, we have in common. We’re all human beings. We have shared needs that are very basic needs. When it comes to health, when it comes to the environment, when it comes to how we live in this world, when it comes to nutrition, many things.

0:27:41 Moshik Temkin: When it comes to it. And then you go to education and infrastructure and all kinds of things that we all need sometimes, whether we are a CEO of a multinational company or we’re working a blue collar job, there are things that we share, and we can’t forget that. So I think the way out, and I know this sounds, I’m not giving, like, some kind of simple formula, I really think the way out is to think about leadership and to think about success less as individual success, because that can be a double edged sword. But to think about it collectively, think about collective leadership, thinking about how I could be a leader not by myself, but a leader with this group of people, or with this collective of people, can even be a large group of people.

0:28:29 Moshik Temkin: And I really think that that’s the best way for organizations. I think it’s the best way for a society to thrive. And I think it’s also a better way for individuals to thrive eventually.

0:28:40 Ramona Shaw: Yeah. And that changes sort of the. Or is it a different mindset of what leadership really means? From a very egocentric to. No, it’s a network, a group of relationships. And leadership really comes from. I mean, by definition, we need followership in order of leadership. But even the word leadership, to have those allies and through the relationships and the trust is what enables then me as a leader to make changes that are less short sighted and an immediate reward.

0:29:11 Ramona Shaw: To piggyback off of that. I want to quickly read this from your book. It says, Johnson was increasingly obsessed with his credibility, turning that vague concept into the most important factor in his decision-making. It is extremely difficult for leaders to extricate themselves from the emotional impact of the world around them. And emotions can and should be a good thing for leaders if they create deeper empathy, a sense of the public good, and the ability to make the right choice.

0:29:39 Ramona Shaw: So, speaking of that, credibility versus the vulnerability, can you elaborate on that and maybe specifically use Johnson as an example here?

0:29:48 Moshik Temkin: Yeah, so thank you for that quote. That is about President Lyndon Johnson. And the chapter that you’re quoting from is about the Vietnam War, and the Vietnam War. Not by accident is the topic of, or has been the topic of so much popular know, even films and books, especially in America. It has almost like a mythic status. And part of it is because it’s such a tragic story. When you think about the people who led into the Vietnam War, I’ll just say upfront, it was a disaster.

0:30:27 Moshik Temkin: So I wrote about it because we learn about leadership not just from success, not just from winning. We also have to look at cases of failure and cases of disasters, even leadership disasters. Now, when is a leadership disaster or leadership failure interesting? It’s not interesting when it’s an incompetent, when it’s someone who comes into a leadership position and is clearly incompetent, that’s not interesting.

0:30:52 Moshik Temkin: It’s predictable. It becomes interesting for us when the people who come into a leadership position are actually excellent people, talented, smart, tough, well educated, well prepared. So the American leadership at the time that they decided to what was known as the escalation of the Vietnam War into a full fledged American war, and this happened in the mid-1960s, 1960, 65, 66, was at the time President Lyndon Johnson and especially his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, who was very famous, actually for making the transition at the time from the private sector. He had been just appointed as the youngest president of the Ford Motor Company at the time. It was probably the number one business executive in America, considered to be part of the group of the best and the brightest at the time to be defense secretary under President Kennedy and then President Johnson.

0:31:57 Moshik Temkin: And President Johnson had a great reputation for policymaking. Right, as you point out. So my question is, as a historian, how do we explain that it’s these two people, along with some others, who lead the country on the path to disaster? Well, that is because of what you just quoted. They were unable to think clearly about the situation. So I do believe that emotion, and Lyndon Johnson was an emotional kind of president.

0:32:27 Moshik Temkin: Emotion can be good if it’s channeled towards empathy, towards understanding the circumstances, toward looking very sensitively at what the impact of your actions will be. But his kind of emotions were the emotions of credibility, by which he meant, how does this make me look? I feel humiliated. I feel weak and unmanly because it’s not going well. So I’m just going to throw more and more force into this war because otherwise I’m losing credibility.

0:32:59 Moshik Temkin: We even can call it a form of machismo. Now, I don’t want to say bad things about machismo. I don’t think machismo per se is a bad thing, but I don’t think that it’s same thing as toughness or intelligence. It shouldn’t substitute for those things. So I think Johnson let those negative emotions get the better of him instead of channeling the more positive emotions that had allowed him previously to be such an empathetic president who worked so hard to make life better for poor people, to create what he called the Great Society, the war on poverty, and to pass the Civil Rights act in 1964, the Voting Rights act in 1965, creating Medicare in 1965.

0:33:51 Moshik Temkin: And this empathetic president, who was able to resonate emotionally, he had also won over the American people, because after the beloved president Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson, who was his Vice President, when he took over as President, he made a statement and he going, “All I can do is do my best, and I ask for your help.” He was turning to the people with tears in his eyes. And I think that kind of emotion really resonated.

0:34:18 Moshik Temkin: But then the dark side of the emotion took over. So I guess the message here is many, but when it comes to this sort of leaders who are caught in their emotions, they need to make sure that their emotions are channeled to success. And sometimes success has to be separated from the things that lead you to a destructive path. So in his case, it was the fear of humiliation, the fear of losing people’s respect.

0:34:50 Moshik Temkin: Those were things that hindered him and eventually caused disaster and led him to forget the good emotions that had brought him to where he was beforehand in the first place.

0:35:00 Ramona Shaw: Well, I think at a significantly smaller scale, but something that we all deal with is the emotional impact in our decision-making. And when we’re really honest, most of us humans, we don’t like to not be or to risk being respected. We don’t like to not be liked, right? So these are the instinctive drives that we have, and because of that, we’re then biased in our decision-making. When you’re looking at leaders who handle this really well, what do they do differently?

0:35:38 Ramona Shaw: Because they’re still experiencing those emotions or probably still have those worries and concerns, but what do they do differently?

0:35:44 Moshik Temkin: That’s a good question. If you take some really impactful leaders in history, I actually end the book with two very different kind of leaders in terms of how they saw the world. But they shared something in common, I would say. One is Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the civil rights movement in the United States, and the other is Margaret Thatcher, the late prime minister of Great Britain. And in my opinion, no matter whatever people think of her, she is arguably the most impactful and significant political leader worldwide of her generation in terms of how she shaped the world, how much of an impact she made on the world and our economy and our society and so on.

0:36:36 Moshik Temkin: I think what they had in common is that they spoke their truth. They were not concerned with whether people liked them or not. In fact, they understood that sometimes, and this might not be a pleasant thing to say, but sometimes, really, transformational leadership means that you are going to alienate people, some people, and you are going to create enemies. And Franklin Roosevelt himself said to the American people, he said, I want you to judge me by the enemies that I have made.

0:37:06 Moshik Temkin: And he knew why he was saying that, because he knew that it was a situation where people identified his choice of enemies as their enemies, too, in the sense of not killing people, but in the sense of these are the obstacles that we have, and these are the people or the groups or the institutions that are creating obstacles for us to do better. And I think that Martin Luther King Jr. And Margaret Danter had that in common, that kind of unrelenting, uncompromising commitment to their path and to their vision.

0:37:45 Moshik Temkin: Now, I don’t want people to end up assassinated like Martin Luther King Jr. Was. So that’s not my goal, and I don’t want people. Margaret Thatcher, actually, she was elected three times, and she was the leader for eleven years, but in the end, she was basically backstabbed by her own party, and it was kind of an unpleasant, ugly demise. But in those periods that they were both in leadership positions, they made an enormous impact.

0:38:16 Moshik Temkin: So sometimes we have to think about our posterity. I know this might sound a little larger than life, but we’re not just managers. We’re not just executives. We’re not just administrators. We also want to be remembered in a particular kind of way. We want to have an impact on the world. We want to outlive our physical, biological lives. We want to leave a trace, right? We want to say, well, I did the best I could and I changed something for the better.

0:38:52 Moshik Temkin: And so I think what they had in common was to really cut through the thicket, not worry so much, oh, what does this person think of me? What does that person think of me? But really say, okay, this is what we need to do to make the world better, and I’m going to do it in my way, whether it’s to become the leader of a mass movement, if possible, or to become a prime minister. But it also works at the smaller scale to say, I do not fear being disliked by certain people, and I don’t even fear physical harm, although that’s a tall order because it’s natural to fear physical harm. We want to live. We are survivors. We’re human beings.

0:39:31 Moshik Temkin: But I think that that is part of what really goes into transformational, great visionary leadership.

0:39:38 Ramona Shaw: The way that I see this in organizations and for leaders is there’s definitely a difference between leaders who have that capability or that awareness that there are going to be people who will not like their decision and will speak up against it, or there will be arguments or conflict coming their way, and they anticipate it and they see it all as this is just part of the progress. But my eyes are set on the target, and I’m very clear about that.

0:40:08 Ramona Shaw: And then there are other leaders who still have that target, but they’re almost like they keep wiggling left and right, because every time someone doesn’t like it, they’re trying to accommodate or create consensus, or they’re trying to create harmony with people or negotiate, and that gets them off the track. And they may still have their eyes set on a target, but it makes it so much harder to get there because their emotional lives is caught up in it. They’re going to have all these little side conversations that takes away energy and power that they need in order to push through.

0:40:45 Moshik Temkin: I think that’s spot on. So I’ll give an example. Actually, it’s kind of a wild example because it is from the business world, but it’s not a happy story, but it’s an important one. So we all know about the infamous case of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes that has kind of blown up. And I think it’s a fascinating case study. Now, at the time that Theranos was at its peak, it was of course, a bogus thing, but it was at its peak and a lot of money rolling around.

0:41:17 Moshik Temkin: There was a board, right? The board of the company consisted of some of the biggest luminaries in the country. And Elizabeth Holmes herself was basically worshipped, you know. She was seen as the next. You know, I don’t need to repeat all of that now. Look at where we are now. This eventually might wind up in prison. The people who surrounded her and were on the board of her company and supported her are distancing themselves. And they look very often quite.

0:41:50 Moshik Temkin: They look like dupes. They look ridiculous. Who are we going to remember fondly or who are we going to see as significant in this story? Well, if you read the books about Theranos and you listen to the podcast or even watch the films that are coming out, you see that it’s actually, whistleblowers in this case, think about the grandson of George Schultz. I forgot the young man’s name the time he was a young man.

0:42:17 Moshik Temkin: He was a whistleblower, had no power, just seen as very eccentric. The lawyers were threatening him. He lost contact. Or he was kind of disowned by his own grandfather, George Schultz, because he refused to back down from the truth that he was telling. And so if you see in real time, he’s a nobody, and everybody else there is really important and massive. And now, where were he the only or one of the few people who emerged from this very sordid tale in a good light?

0:42:53 Moshik Temkin: So sometimes history and posterity give us a very different picture of leadership. He was the true leader. And the people that at the time were seen as the leaders, whether it’s Elizabeth Holmes or her associate, I forgot his name or all the luminaries, Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Schultz and Mr. Blair and all these people who were meeting with her and advising her and were the official or the big leaders, now they look like the opposite of leadership.

0:43:20 Moshik Temkin: So I think that we have to. Sometimes, you know, truth matters, honesty matters. There is a difference between right and wrong. And sometimes history has a funny way of vindicating those who in real time were dismissed or belittled, or sometimes even worse, sometimes they were punished, discredited. And that’s part of the reality of the business world. It’s part of the reality of the political world.

0:43:53 Moshik Temkin: And we see it all the time, right?

0:43:56 Ramona Shaw: And it boils down for each of us to get clear what kind of leaders we want to be and what we stand for. And I hone in always on this get your leadership philosophy clear, your values clear, because those will be the guiding poles when you need to make those tough decisions, when you have to decide, am I going to be quiet and go with the flow, or am I going to be the one who’s standing up regardless of the pushback that I’m going to get.

0:44:22 Ramona Shaw: Well, what kind of leader do you want to be? Let’s go back to that and then use that as a way to make a decision.

0:44:27 Moshik Temkin: Absolutely.

0:44:28 Ramona Shaw: Now, as a way to wrap up our conversation, what is one interesting story that you think is sort of not told enough about leaders in the past or you find particularly fascinating?

0:44:39 Moshik Temkin: I think that we have to be a little bit more flexible and creative when it comes to understanding leaders. I’m actually going to give an example of a leader who I wrote about in my book that most Americans have probably never heard of. But if you travel to a different part of the world, namely, if you travel to Africa, almost everybody in Africa will know who I’m talking about, and that is the musician Felakuti.

0:45:09 Moshik Temkin: Now, can a musician, an artist, be a really important leader? Well, he wasn’t just a musician. He was also a political leader. He was a business leader. He was someone who was talked about as a cultural icon. And he led the struggle of the Nigerian people against the military dictatorship that was in his country at the time. And for his efforts, he and his entourage were thrown in prison. They were attacked.

0:45:45 Moshik Temkin: His mother was assassinated. It was very tough story to write about, but I thought it was important to write about it, because you can see that power and leadership can come from different sources than just the official ones. So there is the leadership and power that comes from being appointed or having an official formal position, institutional, or even being a president or the chief of staff of the military or the CEO of a large company, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Those are undoubtedly platforms from which people can exercise leadership. They don’t always become important leaders, but they can potentially do that.

0:46:33 Moshik Temkin: But then there’s leadership where you say this person is actually making music or writing books or doing things or writing philosophy, whatever it is, doing things that are not formal power. It’s not a formal leadership. They don’t actually have anybody under them in a hierarchy of any sort, and yet they have followers. They have people who listen to them. They have people who believe in their message.

0:47:03 Moshik Temkin: They have the ability to persuade, not just through words, but also through personal example, through inspiration, through art or other medium. And often those tend to be very interesting leaders. Sometimes it even carries over into the business or political realms where they become official leaders. But I think that if I had, as I wrote this book, I started out by saying, okay, I’m going to look at presidents and heads of institutions, people who are in leadership positions. But I started looking at cases in which I said, well, this person had millions of people following her or him, and it’s worth investigating. Why?

0:47:48 Moshik Temkin: How is that leadership work? So I think I encourage everybody to think about leadership in a really open minded, flexible way, and sometimes say, well, leadership can come from all kinds of places, unlikely places, and you will be rewarded if you’re attuned to that, if you can say, “Aha, I identify this person or this group of people as potential leaders, even though they’re not from my walk of life. They didn’t have the same pathway that I did. They don’t seem to have any conventional pathway to leadership, and yet I identify leadership in them.”

0:48:20 Ramona Shaw: Yeah. And it’s interesting with social media and our awareness or our access to or their access, we’ll call this the artists or the advocates and the activists and the people who have an opinion but not the formal authority become so much more influential. We see this play out in the US now with news articles about this kind of stuff on a daily basis. Just very interesting to observe. Yeah, thank you for making that point and adding that to our conversation as well.

0:48:51 Ramona Shaw: Moshik, thank you so much for giving us a little bit of a taste of the history and leadership and how that all relates back what we can learn from the past leaders for how we show up in our own leadership roles in our lives. This was really interesting. We will link to your book again in the show notes for people want to go deeper into it. So any other place that you would want to direct the audience?

0:49:16 Moshik Temkin: Sure. Let me give you my website, which is basically Moshik Temkin. So my name MoshikTemkin.com and that has information about my work, about my book, “Warriors, Rebels and Saints,” which is just out. It has a contact page and I actually am very eager always to hear from readers or listeners or anybody who has follow up questions or wants to reach out to me for any kind of engagement or to speak or have a conversation.

0:49:48 Moshik Temkin: So yeah, just look at my website and all the information is there.

0:49:52 Ramona Shaw: Awesome. That will also be linked. Thank you Moshik for joining us today. So much appreciated and enjoyed this conversation.

0:49:58 Moshik Temkin: Thank you for having me.

0:50:01 Ramona Shaw: If you enjoyed this episode, then check out two other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, the confident and competent new manager which you can find on Amazon or@ramonashaw.com slash book and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You can check it out@ramonashaw.com slash masterclass class these resources and a couple more you’ll find in the show notes down below.


  1. Why is it important for leaders of today to learn about past leaders and leadership wins and failures of the past?
  2. In what ways can emotions impact a leader’s success, both positively and negatively? What pitfalls do you think can impact your success specifically and what can you do to mitigate those pitfalls?
  3. Why are leaders important in moments of crisis, and what type of leaders do people choose in such moments? Are there specific characteristics that you embody or would like to embody to be the type of leader people will look to?
  4. After listening to this episode, do you think that great leaders make history, or does history make great leaders?




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