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The Importance of Relaxing and Recharging

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Lesson time 16:43 min

Using examples from the lives of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, Doris illustrates why recharging is essential for leadership, especially for solving complex problems and making high-stakes decisions with a clear mind.

Doris Kearns Goodwin
Teaches U.S. Presidential History and Leadership
Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin teaches you how to develop the leadership qualities of exceptional American presidents.


[MUSIC PLAYING] - The most underappreciated leadership strength is the ability to relax and replenish energies. In our world today, so many of us feel we don't have time to take off, to relax. Our communication devices go everywhere with us. People can reach us at any moment. We're too busy to relax and replenish. And yet the people I studied, they were pretty busy. Lincoln actually went to the theater more than 100 times during the Civil War. They said when the lights went down and a Shakespeare play came on, for a few precious hours he could forget the war that was raging. And people would criticize him. How can you go to the theater when the Civil War is happening? He said, if I didn't go, the anxiety would kill me. But his greatest form of relaxation was his ability to tell stories and his gift for humor. In the middle of the worst Cabinet meetings, he would come up with a story that was funny and make people laugh. There's something about laughter that is so soothing for the human spirit. And Lincoln understood that. He was a great storyteller. When he was a young lawyer on the circuit in Illinois, they used to travel, the judges and the lawyers together, from one county courthouse to the next. And when anyone knew Lincoln was in town, they'd come for hours around to listen to him tell a story. He could stand with his back against the fire in a tavern and entertain the crowd. Now sometimes these stories had a moral like the "Aesop's Fables" he loved as a child. But sometimes they were just simply hilarious. He once said that humor whistled off sadness, that a good story for him was better than a drop of whiskey, so that was his way of relaxing. Teddy Roosevelt relaxed by exercising two hours every afternoon. He had had asthma as a child so he needed to build up his body from the time he was young. So he would have a raucous game of tennis, or a wrestling match, or a boxing match, but his favorite form of relaxation was to take a hike in the wooded cliffs of Rock Creek Park. So he'd take people along. And he had a rule. You had to move point to point. If you came to a rock, you had to climb it. If you came to a precipice, you had to go down it. So there were stories of everybody falling by the wayside on these ridiculous hikes with Teddy Roosevelt. But the best story was told by the ambassador from France, Jules Jusserand. He went to the White House for his first walk with the president. He said I was so excited I wore my silk outfit as if we'd be strolling along the Champs Elysees. He gets into the woods. He cannot keep up with Roosevelt. Finally, they come to a river, the Potomac River. And he says, thank god, he says in his mind. It's over. We'll go back to the White House. And then he wrote, "Judge of my horror when I saw the president unbutton his clothes and heard him say, it's an obstacle. We can't go around it. No sense in getting our clothes wet. So I too for the honor of France took off my apparel. Ho...

Lead like a president

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Insightful and very interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's class. Her own character and personality came through as well.

Just such a superlative class! Doris does such a great job of using stories to apply lessons of history to the present. It's just absolutely fabulous!

I learned more about the multilayered foundations for successful leadership and the significance of always viewing leadership as service. I concur with the need for national service as an integral and inclusive component of education.

Doris is so smart and genuine. Her sessions send an important message about true leadership qualities at such a tempestuous time in US political scene- esp in the White House. Wish Trump would watch!


Ispiration is kindness and simplicity in every daily movement. Great work courage and poetry.

Thomas C.

Doris is a masterclass treat. Her exposition on the importance of relaxation and recharging your energy in order to be a great leader is a gem. A tired leader makes silly mistakes, a relaxed leader with high energy makes sensible decisions. This point makes it all worth the time. Doris is a great teacher. Thank you. Singapore

Lizzie X.

It is good to learn from good examples. However, great failure can inspire people more.

Gladys P.

It's uncommon to hear of Relaxation and Recharge as a leadership essential. It's often remembered last, as if as a by-line, but Doris emphasizes that it's must have that it is even discussed as its own Masterclass lesson. Recharge is not just to re-energize, but it's also a way to find inspiration again. Must remember to relax too and to purposely "shut down" busy minds, especially during WFH times when working hours seem longer.

Andre W.

I watched many Master Classes. But Doris Kearns Goodwin's is a great surprise. Excellent!

Sara P.

This is such a valuable lesson and extremely important to keep in mind. We are all so busy all the time that sometimes we forget to replenish our energy and think we don't have time to relax. But sometimes, especially when we feel blocked and can't think clearly, taking some time to be by yourself and relax, will help you see the answer with more clarity. I am so happy this lesson was included here!!

Katie M.

I'm enjoying this class SO much. What an articulate, intelligent and kind person Doris is, I'm learning much more than I thought I would!

shelley B.

Great messages in this lesson about how important it is to honor that humans need down time to perform at their best. I'm energized to encourage my peers to take the time to relax and recharge and to work how they're most productive and comfortable.

Jack K.

Hitech and biotech both play very hard -- IBM used to hold company-picnics up at Armonk and sing the company-song -- that sort of R&R adds pressure instead of reducing it... Most resorts now are iPhone fests, wifi and ac plugs everywhere, vacationers run the firm remote and forget to visit the casinos or beaches or mountains or whatever. I'd guess TRoosevelt didn't really "rest" on those desperate treks thru Rock Creek Park -- he should have listened to poor puffing Jusserand's pleas to slow down. Google used to dole out required downtime -- 1 month per year to "go do something non-work" just to relax... -- employee's choice what. Makes more sense than the enforced-group-relaxation too many firms impose now.

Finn Y.

Wow, several hours of recreation a day endorsed by the presidents. If they can do it, so can we! Hahaha