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Our Blog
January 25, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen

A Humility of Spirit

Last week I enjoyed being a history fangirl when I attended a lecture from presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as part of Calvin College’s January Series. She gave some historical perspective on the 2016 election, outlining the evolution of our current primary system and how the party conventions no longer select the candidates.

It was fascinating, but what I’ve been chewing on these past few days was her list of presidential leadership attributes. This came out of a conversation she had with the late Tim Russert of NBC. They agreed that journalists and the American people should focus on the leadership attributes of the candidates, not the social battles. Here are the five she discussed, which are also quite applicable to us as religious leaders.

  1. Temperament: how your nature impacts your behavior
    Goodwin pointed out that President Trump’s temperament is pretty clear: winning. But that’s not all the equation. History shows that resiliency is a key part of presidential achievements. Both Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt developed a humility of spirit through their adversity and setbacks, which paved the way for the patience, resiliency, and empathy that were hallmarks of their administrations.
  1. Surrounding yourself with key people
    President Trump recently tweeted a blanket defense of the diverse people in his cabinet. Goodwin said surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you is mirrored by other presidents. (She talks about that in depth in Team of Rivals, about the Lincoln administration).
  1. Inspire the best performance from your team
    Even though you have great people around you, they still need to perform at a high level. Goodwin observed that President Trump has shown himself a hard worker and time will tell if his team yields positive results.
  1. Find a way to relax and replenish
    Self-care is a popular buzzword right now. Goodwin reiterated that presidents also need ways to shake off the anxieties that come with the office. Lincoln went to the theater hundreds of times as president. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid reader and took a two-hour exercise break each day. Franklin Roosevelt hosted a daily cocktail hour where guests had to talk about anything other than the war. Goodwin shared that she hopes President Trump can learn from his predecessors and find a way to relax. “Leadership requires humor and the ability to replenish oneself,” she said. Amen.
  1. Communicate with your constituency
    Newspapers across the county reprinted each of Lincoln’s speeches. Teddy Roosevelt had the gift of memorable turns of phrase that stuck with the American public. Every living room with a wireless radio heard Franklin Roosevelt’s voice. President Trump seems to have embraced the new media of Twitter, which may prove to be his legacy (it certainly garners a lot of our attention).

Like many of us, I’m struggling with how to move forward in our deeply divided country. I draw hope from a quote that Goodwin shared from former First Lady Abigail Adams, “Great necessities call out great virtues.” As Christians, we are called and commanded to exhibit virtues like patience, kindness, and humility ESPECIALLY in times of great tension, division, and uncertainty. Maybe you’ll join me in reflecting on what a humility of spirit looks like—for ourselves, our churches, and our community of faith.

 This originally appeared on The Twelve, a blog of Perspectives Journal.

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