Meacham talks about leadership

Often in our country, we look to the elected men in the White House for answers. It takes a different kind of thinking to go to them with questions, and Guilford College had a chance to speak to an individual who did just that.

On Nov. 19, presidential historian Jon Meacham visited Greensboro as a part of the 2015-16 Bryan Series. In a discussion session on Guilford’s campus and a longer speech at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Meacham regaled audiences with lessons and stories from his time as a historian.

Most famous for his best-selling biography of former President Thomas Jefferson, Meacham is currently touring the country in support of his most recent book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” the topic with which the discussion session began.

“Well, currently, I’m running around the country talking about George Bush,” Meacham said. “And, that is a little like talking about Dana Carvey.”

The discussion allowed Guilford students, faculty and staff to ask questions about politics, past and present.

At one point, a student asked Meacham which president he thought was the least effective.

“Well, James Buchanan had a tough time,” said Meacham.

At 7:30 p.m., Meacham took the stage at the Coliseum to address the entire Greensboro community, drawing a crowd of viewers.

“We know about Jon Meacham from his books and see him on television all the time,” said event attendee Jim Chittick. “I really liked his comments.”

As most Bryan Series speakers do, Meacham almost filled the bleachers as more and more people poured in.

“His new book about Mr. Bush (really interests me),” said Bill O’Neill, a Bryan Series subscriber from Clemmons. “It’s really interesting, the insight he can bring.  It also has some bearing on our politics now and our election that’s coming up.”

During his speech, Meacham touched on what he saw as the invaluable parts of a great leader.

“The three most important things are an awareness of the culture, the ability to compromise and, finally, a capacity to learn,” Meacham said during the talk.

Meacham closed out his time with a brief reflection on the relationship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, citing an instance in which Roosevelt wrote to Churchill.

“(Roosevelt) once told Churchill, ‘I’m glad to be in the same decade with you,’” Meacham said.

Many audience members began the trip home impressed by Meacham’s analysis and his non-partisan outlook.

“We can’t even figure out what party he belongs to,” said attendee Jackie Green as she and her husband left the arena. “It was hard to tell because he was so balanced in his presentation.”

She was not alone in her excitement, and plenty of other attendees walked away impressed.

“It was fabulous,” said attendee Rick Vanasik. “I’m jealous of his mastery of the language and his knowledge of history.”

Looking forward, George Takei will take the stage at the Bryan Series on March 21 to share the story of his family’s internment during World War II. The Series will conclude with Malcolm Gladwell, a New York Times best-selling author whose books “The Tipping Point” and “Outliers” have changed the way many see patterns and chance occurrences.