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