Nancy Koehn: Best selling Author, Harvard historian, speaker, & leadership coach

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Nancy Koehn is an historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn's research focuses on how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact. Her forthcoming book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, is an enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights that will be of interest to a wide range of readers—including those in government, business, education, and the arts.

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 PBS’s “NewsHour,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” A&E’s “Biography,” and on CNN and MSNBC, among other TV outlets. She has coached leaders from many organizations and speaks 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.

What do you do best?

Bring the lessons and inspiration of history to life for audiences and readers who want to learn from the fascinating stories of the past.

What makes you the best version of yourself?

An eye for a meaty story or compelling person and years of experience teaching the history of leadership to MBA students and executives, all of whom want to understand the people and events that have gone before them and then use these insights in their daily lives.

What are your aspirations?

To motivate leaders from all walks of life to embrace a worthy mission—one that moves the boulder of Goodness forward—and then help them help themselves to lead from their stronger selves.

Biggest Success?

Completing my latest book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.  Surviving a series of life-changing personal crises and learning from these experiences how to be braver, more compassionate, and larger in spirit.

Most Challenging Moment?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer a second time in three years.


Crisis is a great classroom.  Move into the fear and use the turbulence to become a better version of yourself.

Favorite People/Role Models?

The five fascinating, courageous leaders in my book:  Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, US President Abraham Lincoln. Escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and environmental activist Rachel Carson.

Favorite Places/Destinations?

The open fields and small farms of Concord, Massachusetts (like Henry David Thoreau, I love this place and all the life that makes its home here); London and the green and pleasant lands of England and Ireland, and Florence, Italy.

Favorite Products/Objects?

A Starbucks Flat White, a Lisa Perry dress, a Penguin Classic edition of Middlemarch

Current Passions?

Riding and jumping my horses.  Hiking with my two wonderful Welsh Springer Spaniels.  Listening to irresistible dance music (and then jumping up and dancing)