Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times


Forged in Crisis: The

Power of Courageous

Leadership in Turbulent


By Nancy Koehn

Released Tuesday, October 03, 2017

In Forged in Crisis, Nancy Koehn, a Harvard Business School professor and Davos and Aspen Institute speaker, crafts an in-depth portrait of five extraordinary figures—Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, American President Abraham Lincoln, escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and environmental activist Rachel Carson—that illuminates how great leaders are made in times of adversity and the diverse skills they summon in order to prevail.

What do such disparate figures have in common? Why do their stories speak to us so powerfully today?

Each story begins with one of our protagonists on the precipice of a great crisis: Shackleton marooned on an Antarctic ice floe with no hope of rescue; Lincoln on the verge of the collapse of the Union; Douglass threatened with a return to enslavement; Bonhoeffer agonizing on what a man of faith should do when faced with absolute evil; Carson racing against the clock—and the cancer ravaging her—in a bid to save the planet. Koehn then reaches back to each person’s early years, pouring over private journals, letters, and historical documentation, to show the individual blooming into the force he or she would ultimately become. Through their confronting of obstacles, we begin to glean an essential truth: leaders are not born but made, and the power to lead resides in each of us.

For those looking to become a better leader, or looking to find the best leaders among us, Forged in Crisis sets the benchmark by which all will be measured.

Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn is the author of numerous books, articles, and Harvard Business School cases. She writes frequently for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Harvard Business Review Online. She is also a weekly commentator on National Public Radio and has appeared on many national television programs. She has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and in many other venues. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, Koehn earned a Master of Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government before taking her MA and PhD in History from Harvard. She lives outside Boston and is a dedicated equestrian.