Business, Community & Government

Navigating Crises

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Lesson time 8:27 min

Doris discusses the role she believes leaders should take in a crisis and how they should console their constituencies, sharing a case study on Teddy Roosevelt’s management of the 1902 Coal Crisis.

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Topics include: Control the Narrative


[VIOLIN MUSIC] - Almost all the leaders that I've studied have had to handle a crisis at some point during their presidency. And there is a certain pattern, I think, to the way of handling that crisis. The most important thing in the beginning of a crisis management is to gather information about what's happening and to decide whether or not you should be intervening at that point or whether or not you just need to let the situation go on a little further before you have the right and before it will make a difference that you intervene. And then I think what you have to do is to understand what both sides in the struggle are feeling. And that means, not just information. That means really talking to the people and understanding what they're feeling. And then you have to begin to educate public sentiment, because in the end, a crisis that occurs in the government, it will depend on how the people themselves feel. And then you have to gather together a team that is particularly focused on this crisis. And I think what happens at a certain point in time when a president is overwhelmed by all sorts of decisions and that crisis occurs here, it may not get the attention that it needs until it becomes a full blown crisis. So your hope is that you catch it early on. And you've started to put together the team of people who can look at it most carefully. I can just use Teddy Roosevelt as an example. After about a year or so into his presidency, a coal strike started. The unions who mined the coal had gone on strike, because their working conditions were not what they wish they were. And the owners of the coal mine would not meet with them. They thought it was not right to be forced to have a meeting between the workers and the business owners. So the strike went on month after month. And the problem for Teddy Roosevelt-- the real crisis was there was no legal authority, no precedent for a president ever to intervene in anything between business and private business and unions. And there was a sense of laissez-faire at that time that business world was one thing-- government world was another. And if you did try to intervene, you'd screw the whole thing up. So he had to figure out, what can I do? So he realized he had to sort of create public sentiment first about the fact that as President of the United States, he was responsible to the people. So the unions are responsible for the workers. The coal owners are responsible for the business. And he's responsible for a third force-- the people. So he started talking in those terms to try and create public sentiment. And then still, no negotiation was possible. So he decided, I'm going to do something that hasn't been done before. I'm going to invite the head of the coal miners. And I'm going to invite the coal barons, the owners to a meeting in the White House together. They'd never come to the White House for a negotiation-- anybody from business-- anybody from the labor unions. ...

About the Instructor

For more than 50 years, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has studied great American presidents. Now the Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you leadership through the lens of U.S. presidential history. With timeless stories of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, Doris shares practical wisdom and a template for honing leadership skills. Manage a crisis, craft a message, and guide a team like extraordinary leaders of the past.

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Doris Kearns Goodwin

Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin teaches you how to develop the leadership qualities of exceptional American presidents.

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