Turbulence is the world’s new normal. No longer should we continue contemplating, “What does it all mean?” but instead start seriously preparing for and expecting the unexpected. What we need, according to Harvard Business School historian Nancy F. Koehn, is more wisdom to help “take advantage of the promise, mitigate the peril… and navigate into the possibility of the next century.” Our success, she says, depends on effective leaders – those who can find their stronger, better selves in the midst of great crisis. And then, help others do the same.
Drawing wisdom from the storied experiences of legendary figureheads – Abraham Lincoln and explorer Ernest Shackleton, whose expedition famously never reached Antarctica, among them – Koehn provides provocative parallels between key leadership qualities of yesterday and today. Which battles to fight; how to mobilize in the face of challenge; learning from and surviving failure, and how to change course midstream are scenarios equally relevant in modern management as they were during the Civil War or early 1900s.
Passionate and energetic with a keen ability to make the past profoundly relatable, she is also drawing diverse audiences impelled to leverage her expertise: from Harvard MBA students and global brands like Starbucks, Estée Lauder and Oakley Inc., to her poignant presentation at Aspen Ideas Festival, which Arianna Huffington dubbed the “talk of the festival.” Koehn, who was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article about business’ notable shift from celebrity speakers to “gurus with actual experience,” says executives take comfort in knowing Lincoln sometimes doubted himself and they see in Shackleton a mentor for high-stakes crisis management.