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Leaders in Crisis: Insights & Lessons from History

As the world experiences an unprecedented crisis, affecting virtually every part of the planet, people are anxious for leaders to guide them through it successfully. But what sort of leadership is necessary to face our current challenges? What does history teach us about the ingredients that make good, even transformative, leaders?

“Leaders in Crisis: Insights & Lessons from History” will address these core questions by focusing on leaders in particularly trying circumstances in history. How did certain women and men arrive at leadership positions? What choices and decisions did they make in difficult situations? How do we evaluate their successes or failures? What kinds of lessons and insights can we learn from their lives and legacies? Drawing on a series of historical case studies developed at the Harvard Kennedy School, we will tackle these questions and use history to think about leaders and leadership in our own day.

What will you learn?

  • Analyze what sort of leaders and leadership are needed to tackle the real and deepest problems facing our world, including the Asian region. In doing so, own a stronger grasp of the world we live in and its history.
  • Become reflective about leadership and its practice – your own and that of others – in a dramatically changing social, economic, and geopolitical landscape.
  • Improve your own leadership capacities by learning to use power within boundaries and constraints, and to create meaningful progress both with and without power.
  • Prioritize the challenges we face and learn to study of the past in order to better prepare for what may come in the future.
  • Rethink the purpose and meaning of leadership while acknowledging that leadership is primarily about advancing the common good, as well as being able to make history.

About the Professor

Professor Temkin is a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where he developed and taught his award-winning course “Leaders and Leadership in History” for several years. He has also taught leadership and history at Columbia University in New York, Sciences Po in Paris, and Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University in Beijing.

At Harvard University, he won multiple teaching awards, including the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School’s Dean’s Award. He was a Big Think inaugural Delphi Fellow and was honored by the History News Network as one of the “Top Young Historians” in the world. He has lectured and consulted on leadership insights from history to professionals all over the world, in both the public and private sectors, government, business, law, policy, and many other fields, in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.

A specialist in modern American and international history, he earned his PhD at Columbia University and is the author and editor of several books, including The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial (Yale University Press), which was a finalist for the Cundill International Prize, and several peer-reviewed scholarly articles that have appeared in such venues as the Historical Journal, the Journal of Contemporary History, and Humanity. As a public scholar, he has written about history, leadership, and public affairs for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the NationNewsweekSalonTimeAeon, and the Conversation. He is at work on a book titled Undesirables: Travel Control and Surveillance in an Age of Global Politics, to be published by Harvard University Press, as well as a forthcoming book on lessons on leadership from history, to be published by Public Affairs.

Who Will Benefit

Government and Political Leaders

Gain a broader and deeper perspective of the political, geopolitical, and social landscape in which they operate to bring about meaningful change.

Socially-minded Business Leaders

Gain a deeper understanding of the role of the private sector in the broader society, and develop an understanding of how they can better fulfill that role to work for the common good.

Educators, Nonprofit, and Social Impact Leaders

Gain both holistic and on the ground perspectives of how education, social organizing, and community-building initiatives can play critical roles in instilling the right mindset, behaviors, and structures to meet the needs of the future.

Programme Structure

Participants will engage in a wide range of learning activities involving five (5) Live Virtual Q&A Sessions directly with the Head Teaching Faculty; ten (10) Self-paced learning activities and pre-recorded Lectures, Weekly Individual Assignments, and Small Group Discussions.

  • 5 Weeks = 10 Live/Pre-recorded Lectures; 2 per Week = 70 min. Each
  • 5 120 min. Live Office Hours/Q&A Sessions; 1 per Week
  • 4 Home Assignments = 2 Small Group Discussions + 1 Group Project + 1 Reflection Paper (TBD)
  • 10 Pre-Lecture Reading Assignments (1 per session)
  • 2 Program Evaluation Surveys


“Leaders in Crisis: Insights & Lessons from History” is adapted from Professor Moshik Temkin’s course “Leaders and Leadership in History,” a full course he developed and teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also teaches a version of this course at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

In this course, we look at seminal events in world history, and explore the contexts in which leaders and leadership arise, and how leaders have responded to create transformative legacies, both for good or ill.


  • King David
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Women’s Suffrage Movement
  • Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X
  • French Resistance in World War II
  • Rafael Trujillo
  • Japan and America’s Road to War
  • Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson
  • Chairman Mao Zedong
  • Margaret Thatcher
Download Detailed Program Overview