Interview With Renown Presidential Historian Doug Wead: Traits that Make Leaders Successful



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In Scripture of all the characters, which would you say is your favorite? Which character do you closely align with, and why?

I think like most people, actually, probably David. And the reason is he expresses himself in the songs. So, he goes through, moments of deep despair and moments of doubt, of questioning God and moments of great praise and joy—profound moments. I think of Psalms 103:10. This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born, and David writes, “As far as the sky is above the earth, the heavens are above the earth, so far have you removed our transgressions from us; as far as the east is from the west.” So, this is his understanding of God’s mercy, and that’s pretty profound.

Are there any historical figures that just jump out at you as favorites?

This will sound controversial to a lot of people, but I’m just absolutely fascinated with Donald Trump. I know he offends a lot of people. He’s not a politician and he’s not a diplomat, but I’ve just been truly fascinated with him. I believe in hundreds of years from now long after we’re gone or our grandchildren have died, I think historians will come back, and either they will hate the Trump family, like the Borgias or the Medicis of medieval Europe, because they’re so wealthy and politically connected, or they’ll love them like the Kennedys or the Rockefellers. But they will be remembered, and they’re fascinating people to study. I’m especially impressed because I worked for many, many years, for 30, 40 years with the Bush family, and I had developed quite an understanding of how the establishment works and how they make their money. To see Donald Trump come and disrupt that and restore income to the poorest of the poor, to African Americans and minorities that have often been left behind. That impresses me.

What are your favorite historical stories?

I guess one of the stories, it’s a repeated story throughout history that really fascinates me is what I would describe as the man in the shadows. I’ve noticed in studying Presidents and writing books about presidents and their families that, in every presidential family, there is a very ambitious parent, a mom or a dad, usually it’s the mother, sometimes it’s the dad, and they focus on one of their children. They say to themselves, “This is the kid. This is the kid that’s going to do everything that I could have done and wanted to do.” That child becomes the focus of their energy and their investment in life. Time and time again, throughout history, that child fails or that child dies. It’s just uncanny. But there is another child and that’s the child in the shadows that the parents are overlooking. He’s looking on with envy at the chosen child, and that child from the shadows, becomes President of the United States. We see it in the Eisenhower family, in the Kennedy family, in the Bush family. It’s not necessarily the oldest child that’s chosen.

In George Washington’s case, it was the oldest. His dad, Augustine Washington, was dying, and all the money, all the education, everything went to Lawrence Washington, his oldest son. All his hopes were on Lawrence who was there at his deathbed. He had a second son, a backup son that also got an education in England and who got training in the iron works just in case something happened to Lawrence. Then at the foot of the bed was 11-year-old George Washington, who got nothing. When his dad died, the mother gave him his equipment for measuring properties, and that was his only inheritance from his dad. But within a few years, Lawrence was dead and George Washington became this huge figure in history. Just a few miles from where his dad lay dying, would be the Washington Memorial rising in marble and a whole city named after him, and Augustine had no idea.

We find that in the Bible. Moses says, “Don’t you mean Aaron? Are you sure you know what you’re doing here? Don’t you mean Aaron?”

And the Prophet, Samuel says, “I can’t figure this out. Is this all your children?” and Jesse says, “Yeah, but this is everybody.”
“I just can’t figure it out. I was so sure. There’s no other children?”
“No. Well, there’s David, there’s our youngest out with the sheep.”
“Go get him,” Samuel says.

So, it’s not John… Joseph Kennedy, it’s Jack Kennedy. It’s unexpected. It’s not Milton, it’s Dwight David Eisenhower. It’s not Jeb who was a millionaire in real estate and the anointed son, it was George W., who was an alcoholic and leading a bankrupt oil company in Texas.

God looks through the shadows to find people to raise up to do great things. Don’t count yourself out because God doesn’t count you out.

Who is your favorite interview thus far and why?

Donald Trump because he’s got such an outrageous personality. He’s so funny, he’s absolutely comical and funny that it’s pretty hard to top that. But other than… I’ve enjoyed long conversations with George W. Bush. He has a great sense of humor. I remember when we had Gerald Ford at our house, my sons were extremely interested because the media made fun of him on TV. They treated him like he was dumb. Many of these Presidents they treat like they’re dumb. But they’re not dumb, they’re smart. Gerald Ford was a policy wonk and he knew a lot. Reagan was nice and gentle, real gentleman. I have great admiration for these Presidents. And having now interviewed 6 of them, I’ve tried to find what the common denominators are. One of the common denominators is they’re good listeners, every one of them, including Donald Trump, which really surprised me.

We were in the middle of talking about Andrew Jackson and I said, “You know about his wife?” he said, “Tell me, tell me.” So, I told him the story and he kept asking questions, and he had me doing all the talking during that story. And I was thinking like, “Hey, we’re wasting time here. I want to ask you the questions.” But that’s typical of… of great leaders, they’re good listeners.

I’m going to say the names of 6 world leaders. And you being an historian, share with us the first thing that comes to mind. Now, I know you could give a whole history on each of these, but say what comes to mind when I mentioned these world leaders.

Winston Churchill.



Shrewd, he was very shrewd. And I’ve only begun to discover some of the things he did. I had to first take that he was a socialist in liberal policies. But his handling during World War II, gold. It allowed the huge transfer of wealth from the British Empire, which ruled the world for 100 years, and that gold came to the United States. He demanded hard currency. Before he had land leased, he demanded full payment in gold, and it made America rich.

Douglas MacArthur.

He was such a great strategist. And he can show you why you don’t have to be in a hurry when the Japanese conquered all those islands. He came up with the idea that, “We don’t have to go in there and have our boys die taking back each island step by step.. We’ll just bypass the islands and they’re trapped.” So, it’s like the Japanese were suddenly trapped on their islands and they were like prisoners of war camps. They ruled the island, but they couldn’t get off. That was very clever as he took his steps towards Japan in winning World War II.


He had a real setback with Vienna and then with the Bay of Pigs, but he was able to keep us cool. And keep smiling. Ronald Reagan did that too. And it allowed him to overcome it and become extremely popular. It could have been a tough presidency because of those early mistakes. But that shows you the power of charisma and the power of keeping your dignity.

Margaret Thatcher.

Iron will. There’s an example of somebody. We get defeated, we say, “Well, it’s not our time. It’s not… you know, our ideas are old fashioned, there’s no hope for us.” But Margaret Thatcher took on the whole establishment, went against the grain, spoke the truth clearly, without fear or hesitation, and she turned the whole country around.

Ronald Reagan.

Just amazing. It’s wonderful for me to see him finally applauded and credited. Just as I described Maggie Thatcher, you could say at the spades with him. He believed the Cold War could be won, and nobody else did. School teachers in Holland were telling their children, “It doesn’t matter what college you go to because the world isn’t going to exist. By the time you go to college.” Everybody thought it would end in a nuclear annihilation. And he called Marxism wrong. He knew it was wrong. It wasn’t popular to do that, but he did. And at Reykjavik, he walked away and said, “No, I didn’t get the deal. We didn’t get the deal.” He walked away. The media was furious, they were howling, but he ended the Cold War.

You studied all these world leaders, if you were to look at all their lives and find a common thread, what do you think is the biggest stumbling block for success and how can leaders today avoid that, what would it be?

I can tell you what the biggest stumbling block for my success has been, and that is to underestimate what I should try for and what I should try to do. I never, for example, would have written a book about the Presidential election because there were too many other great writers who would be writing on that subject and I couldn’t compete with them. But I did get enough nerve to say, you know, Hillary Clinton is going to win this election and Bill Clinton will be the first man, not the first lady. I know all about Presidential families, and I could be the authority to write the book, ‘First Man: Bill Clinton in Hillary’s White House’. So, I started writing that book, and I had enough confidence to write that book. Then wouldn’t you know it? Donald Trump won the election. I called my publisher and said, “What are we going to do?” and I was going to lose everything. And my publisher said, “Well, you got any ideas?” I said, “Yes, I got an idea. Let me make it about the election instead of about Bill Clinton. I’ll use the first part of what I’ve written.” She said, “You get me 300 words. I’m having dinner with the publisher tonight. Get me 300 words and the title.” So, I came back that night with a title ‘Game of Thorns’ and 300 words about the 2016 election, I got it. That gave me enough confidence to walk into Ivanka Trump’s office to sit down and say, “Every president gets an oil painting. And every president, if they want, it gets an official history. I would like to write that history of the Trump White House.” And she called back the following Friday from New York and she said, “Congratulations. I’ve talked to the President, you can write your book.” That would never have happened if I hadn’t asked for it. I’ve always been too shy and too timid to ask. I’m seeing that is how Donald Trump becomes president because he knows how to make a big decision and goes for it.

If you only had 5 minutes to advise an emerging leader, what would you say to them?

I guess the advice would be this. When I interviewed Ivanka Trump, I said, “What was it about your dad that makes him different?” and she said, “Well, he goes for the home run, not the single.” You know, he’s famous for saying, “If you’re going to think anyway, you might as well think big.” So, I guess I would encourage them to dream big. Think of this, “Unto him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly, above all that you ask or even think, according to the power that work as in you, unto him be glory in the church throughout all of the ages, world without end, amen, according to the power that work is in you.” So, there’s power working in us. And God is able to do far beyond anything we’d ever have the nerve to even ask for.

What would you say to people about that principle of FOF and FOP–fear of failure and fear of people?

Those are the 2 great obstacles. Fear of people, “What will they say? And what will they think of me?” and the fear of failure. And the answer is they’re both illusions. People don’t care. They don’t… they’re not thinking about you. They’re not having a party to celebrate your success and they’re not having a party to celebrate your failure. They don’t care about you. So, you’re going to spend your whole life trying to impress people who, for 2 cents, would walk right by you. So, impress God, impress yourself, impress your family. Do something for the people that really love you. Don’t be living in fear of people because you’ll never satisfy them and you’ll never please them. Failure—the greatest people who’ve ever lived have failed. It’s certainly true of all the Presidents, we could go through every one of them. But some of the greatest business, think of Disney, he comes to mind right away with his multiple bankruptcies. But the best way to deal with the fear of failure is to fail. Get it over with and just keep going.

Could you share the story of Guinevere from King Arthur?

Yeah, that’s from the idols of the kings. It’s a great story. Guinevere commits adultery with Lancelot. And so, she sinned and she’s in great despair and guilt and misery. She destroyed Camelot. She could blame it on the lusty month of May and she could blame it on Sir Lancelot. It takes 2 to commit adultery. She could blame it on her husband, King Arthur, who neglected her. But she’s a rare person who assumes guilt and responsibility herself. She knows that she herself had something to do with this. So, she retires to a nunnery and she’s locked in a dungeon and fed bread and water at her own request, and there she languishes. Many years later, King Arthur, her husband comes for her kiss for battle. And she’s in this cell, she can hear the footsteps on the cobblestones outside and she could tell that’s her husband, that’s her sovereign, Arthur the king. He’s come back for her kiss. He’s got his armies outside, ready to go into battle. He just wants the blessing of his queen, to whom he’s still married. So, they can’t get the door open. They have to call a locksmith, and they have to call a blacksmith. They have to burn open this door to get inside, and their lanterns fill a room and the rats go scurry into the wall. And here is Guinevere, once the most beautiful woman in Camelot, and she’s an old hag, and her hair is tangled, and her fingernails are uncut and dirty. And Arthur picks her up in his arms and he kisses her for good luck for battle. And as he lets go of her, he sees the shame in her face and he says these words, “The sin is sinned. It is over, I forgave you long ago.” And then he sweeps from the room and he goes into battle and Guinevere is just a puddle of tears there. But the point is that this is the message of Christianity that, “The sin is sinned, and it’s already happened, and I forgave you long ago. Don’t spend your life in a dungeon and in torment over the mistakes you’ve made in your life. Get out into the sunshine and fight. There’s battles to win, and there’s a horse to ride on, and there’s a sword, shield, and it’s time to get on with your life.”

Are you still speaking at churches?

I’d love to be in the churches. I’d love to get inspiration from being in them, and of course, love to share the message that God’s given me, a message of hope and vision, that great things are possible.