Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 2014

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Living With the Presidents

By Susan Sarfati, CAE

go to a Shakespeare play, for a few precious hours he wouldn't think about the Civil War. When FDR had his cocktail hour, you couldn't talk about any other issues except gossip and lighter topics. Everybody needs a few precious hours not to think about major things on their mind.

What is the process you follow when you are working on a new book?

For me, what happens is the idea is the person. It's who I'm going to want to spend my time with over the next years. With my new book, I started out [reading about] Teddy Roosevelt. Knowing how many good books are [already] written about him, I couldn't just write another biography. I read further and found it interesting that he picked Taft as his successor. I started reading about Taft and found out about their unique friendship. That became the core of my research.

One liked the press and the other didn't, so that got me to study the press and became the bully pulpit part of the story. Then another cast of characters came into the picture. Most important for me is to delve into the issue very deeply. I have others to help — a researcher and an editor with whom I've worked for 25 years. I delegate and work as team. Gathering of material is something to get help on. I also have a special assistant who knows me well, and the Internet has made everything much easier.

What's next for Doris Kearns Goodwin?

I'm pretty sure that I'd like to go back and figure out from all the different leaders that I have studied in depth, what are qualities that they share, what kind of mistakes did they make, what can we learn from the stories that I've told about these leaders. I would illustrate leadership attributes through stories and what I think they had in common. I already started reading a lot of the leadership books by business writers — emotional intelligence books, social intelligence books. Then I'll go back to my people, presidents I studied, and find out what I've learned over the past 40 years to illustrate leadership.

Susan Sarfati, CAE, is CEO of High Performance Strategies LLC, which focuses on organizational assessments, innovative thinking in organizational strategy, leadership and management, moving from ideas to execution, and building a human-focused learning culture. She served as CEO of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives and executive vice president of ASAE. She can be reached at susan@ssarfati.com.

Editor's Note: Our thanks to the Washington Speakers Bureau for making this interview possible.

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