Best-selling author and historian Michael Beschloss encouraged attendees at NFPA's Conference & Expo to learn from the past as he presented anecdotes of U.S. presidents skilled in leadership.
What makes history useful, noted Beschloss at the conference's General Session, is that it has the ability to enhance our lives. Using examples from George Washington to John F. Kennedy, Beschloss offered takeaways of how adversity and risk-taking helped shape and define America's top leaders. These examples are noted in his recent book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. "They understand that it is impossible to create any kind of change without putting your job on the line all the time," he said. "Yes, you want to keep your job, but at anytime you might sacrifice it because you know you are doing something important."
Using Abraham Lincoln as an example, Beschloss told attendees that his aides told Lincoln four months before his reelection that the Emancipation Proclamation would ruin his chances for another term. Lincoln did toy with the idea of canceling the directive, Beschloss said. "To Lincoln's credit, he realized he couldn't remain a loyal leader by canceling [the proclamation]. He stuck with it and won the reelection. He said, 'I'll make the risky decision, but I'll explain to Americans that it's the right thing to do. It's a necessary effort to win the Civil War.'"
All great leaders, he added, effectively work with the opposing side, and others receive deserved recognition years after their presidency. Beschloss noted that in 1953, for example, Harry Truman had an abysmal approval rating. However, he had a strategy in place to win the Cold War--a strategy that eventually led to the war's end and high praise years after his death.