I can’t give a big enough endorsement for the podcast, “Presidential.” Put on by The Washington Post, the series deep dives into the life, leadership style, historical context, and legacy of each American President, devoting one episode to each and releasing them in chronological order. Check it out here.
I just finished the Teddy Roosevelt episode, and these are my favorites thus far…
So many things to comment on with this one. The episode focuses on Lincoln as a writer and orator, and it’s easily the most inspiring of the entire series for me. A great way to dip your toe in the water if you aren’t sure this podcast is for you. I’m in the middle of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, now, so more thoughts on Lincoln to come.
John Quincy Adams:
Adams had some big shoes to fill, with his dad literally being, you know, a Founding Father (no pressure, JQA!). He ultimately had a pretty forgettable presidency, due in large part to his ambition not syncing up well with the political climate of the day. Most of his ideas were repeatedly rejected by the House or Senate. But what’s amazing about his story is that after his 4-year term as president, he jumped right back in to politics as a member of the House of Representatives! Not only that, but because of his frustrating experience as president, he had a profound sense of empathy for the next POTUS and went out of his way to help his successor get things done. Something we should consider mandating today?
What could have been? Assassinated just 200 days into office, historians on the podcast suggest that, based on Garfield’s character, his humble upbringing and his military leadership experience, his legacy would be on par with Lincoln’s had his presidency not been cut so short.
According to the podcast, Grant wrote, by far, the best, most insightful, personal, and thorough presidential memoirs in history, and I can’t wait to read them. This episode dives deep into how those memoirs also saved his family from financial ruin and how he managed to finish them in dramatic fashion just before his death.
Roosevelt’s incredible level of energy, enthusiasm, optimism and his constant pursuit of adventure were unmatched in the White House, and it was fascinating to learn just how all of those traits were so perfectly in line with the pulse of the country at that time, as American industry and innovation were thriving and possibilities for the future seemed so promising.
One of the things that stands out for me is how so many of our Presidents had such a different style and personality, and rather than trying to lead the country in a way that emulated those who came before them, they embraced their quirks and used them to their advantage throughout their presidency. Roosevelt, for example, had a small zoo in the White House and rather than meet with Washington congressmen, senators, ambassadors, etc. over lunch, he’d take them out to hike, row, or climb rocks and trees! I can only imagine a stuffy Senator responding to an invite like, “thanks, but nah, I’m going to pass on the horned frog expedition today.”
I found that theme to be a good reminder to not let the processes, people, practices and styles of the day dictate exactly how I go about my business. The peer pressure struggle is still real as an adult, but embracing your own unique style and personality, and injecting that into your work must be so much more fulfilling.
Check out the series here.