The Value Creators Podcast Episode #23. Moshik Temkin on Leadership By Warriors, Rebels, and Saints – Leadership Wisdom from the Pages of History

Moshik Temkin is a historian who offers an alternative perspective on leadership. He asks, do leaders make history or does history make leaders? Those two forces can’t be separated. While leaders contribute to shaping history, they are also molded by powerful historical forces. This nuanced perspective is evident in analyses of historical figures like FDR, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, emphasizing the role of circumstances in leadership’s response to complex historical challenges, ultimately leading to significant changes in their respective nations. The conversation explores moral leadership in the civil rights movement, comparing the approaches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Despite their distinct styles, both leaders shared a commitment to collective progress and justice, challenging the prevailing emphasis on individual success. Temkin addresses the ethical dilemmas leaders encounter during crises, prompting reflection on the justifiability of extreme measures for the sake of victory.

How does this discussion contribute to the question of leadership in business? Leadership is subjective. We look to those who we feel can guide us, whether in politics or business. There are principles that cross both fields.


Knowledge Capsule:

Leadership Perspectives:

  • Moshik Temkin explores the complex relationship between leaders and historical context, emphasizing that leaders both make history and are influenced by historical forces.
  • Rejecting a simplistic view of leadership, Temkin suggests that circumstances and historical momentum often shape the significance of individual leaders.

Individual Leaders in Historical Events:

  • Examining historical figures like FDR, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, Temkin highlights how leaders interact with historical events and crises.
  • While acknowledging the impact of individuals, he emphasizes the role of historical circumstances in determining the success or failure of leadership.

Moral Leadership and Collective Progress:

  • Delving into the civil rights movement, Temkin discusses the contrasting leadership styles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
  • Both leaders, despite their differences, shared a commitment to collective progress and justice, emphasizing the importance of leaders focusing on the well-being of the entire community rather than individual success.

Transformative Leadership:

  • Temkin underscores the concept of “transformational leadership” by citing examples such as FDR and Margaret Thatcher, leaders who brought significant changes to their respective nations during critical periods.
  • These leaders exhibited the ability to transform existing structures and navigate through complex historical challenges.

Leadership and Decision-Making in Crises:

  • Temkin explores the difficult decisions leaders face in times of crisis, referencing instances like the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan during World War II.
  • The conversation touches on the ethical dilemmas leaders encounter, questioning the justifiability of extreme measures in the pursuit of victory in war.

Leadership’s Collective Impact:

  • Acknowledging that leaders play a role in shaping history, Temkin emphasizes the collective impact of historical forces and societal structures on the emergence and effectiveness of leadership.
  • The conversation prompts reflection on how understanding historical context is crucial for comprehending the complexities of leadership.