Brian Kilmeade’s Love of America and Defense of Its History

“History, to me, is so easy to sell,” said Brian Kilmeade. “If it’s done with passion, you can’t say that it’s boring and uninteresting.”

Most people know Mr. Kilmeade as co-host of the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends.” He’ll be the first to tell you he loves his job. But his passion is history. Mr. Kilmeade is the author of eight books, all related in some way to American history. His first two, written more than 15 years ago, are sports-related. His last six, however, discuss more serious historical matters.

Mr. Kilmeade has written about George Washington’s spy ring, Thomas Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates, Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, Sam Houston and the Texas Revolution, the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and, most recently, the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington. Although the first four focused on American military history, the tune changes slightly in his last two offerings. He suggests that the change is more incidental than predetermined.

“I’m just trying to move through time, and I got to the Civil War,” he said. “It was really about [Lincoln and Douglass] and how they got through that rough time together. Their partnership was way too short, but very effective. Then we had Reconstruction, then the falling apart of Reconstruction, then the 20th century, and then in comes Jim Crow, and I thought how do I move through time and tell the story between two people.”

Mr. Kilmeade said he had read Washington’s autobiography “Up from Slavery” before he settled on writing about Lincoln and Douglass. The book captivated him, and then he learned that Theodore Roosevelt had been just as taken by Washington’s writing.

Theodore Roosevelt speaking at National Business League. (Public Domain)

Roosevelt and Washington: Self-Made Men

“After Teddy Roosevelt did what I did (that’s my only comparison with Teddy Roosevelt, I promise) and read ‘Up from Slavery,’ [he] gave it to his wife, who couldn’t put it down. And she said, ‘We have to meet this guy,’” Mr. Kilmeade said. “The first time they met was April 1, 1901. They immediately knew they could help each other.”

Roosevelt and Washington, despite growing up in vastly different environments, had something important in common, Mr. Kilmeade explained. They were both self-made men.

Washington, as his autobiography suggests, was born a slave nine years before the end of the Civil War. After emancipation, his family moved to West Virginia, where he worked in a salt furnace and a coal mine. Desiring an education, he traveled, mainly on foot, to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in 1872. He was provided a job as a janitor to pay his room and board, and a benefactor paid for his education. After graduating in 1875, he went back to West Virginia to teach for two years. He returned to university for eight months at Wayland Seminary in the nation’s capital. He joined the staff at Hampton, but he was soon selected to lead a new school in Alabama: the Tuskegee Normal School (now Tuskegee University), an institution to train African American teachers. Under his guidance, the school grew exponentially. Washington went on to write 40 books, became a prolific speaker, and assembled a network of some of the nation’s most powerful people, including Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was born to an uncertain fate. Plagued by illness, including asthma, the future president was not expected to live very long. His father advised him, “You have the mind but you have not the body. You must make your body.” Roosevelt began a lifelong undertaking of sporting challenges, including hunting, hiking, boxing, and exploration. Roosevelt, along with his speeches, wrote 45 books, and he became one of the most influential politicians in American history.

A portrait of Booker T. Washington photographed by Christopher Ethelbert Cheyne in 1903. (Public Domain)

Keeping the Path

Seven months after their first meeting, Washington was invited to dine with Roosevelt and his family at the White House. It was the first time a black person had ever dined at the White House, and the only time for a long period afterward due to political and social backlash. This backlash came primarily from the Southern press and politicians.

“In their case, they changed their strategy, but they didn’t change their relationship,” Mr. Kilmeade said. “Roosevelt was totally shocked by it. But they kept their path together. They would have done more if they thought America was ready for it.”

Mr. Kilmeade explained that both Roosevelt and Washington continued to help each other’s causes. Whether it was Roosevelt assisting Washington’s pursuit for educational progress within the black community, or Washington assisting Roosevelt in obtaining the black vote for reelection, the two forged a bond that, as Mr. Kilmeade’s book suggests, cleared a path for racial equality.

The topic of Mr. Kilmeade’s two latest books is the idea of racial equality. He believes the topic is timely for a moment where “we seem to be more obsessed with race in this country, now more than ever.”

(This is a short preview of a story from the May Issue, Volume 4.)

Features American Success

Why Building Trust Is the Most Important Element to Business Success

In the world of leadership and trust, few names resonate as strongly as Stephen M.R. Covey. He carries a legacy closely tied to his father’s groundbreaking work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which was one of the most influential self-improvement books of the 20th century.

Mr. Covey co-founded CoveyLink, a consultancy firm, and is a leader at the coaching company co-founded by his father, FranklinCovey, both of which emphasize a movement toward trust and increased transparency in business ethics. His philosophy centers on the belief that nothing moves as swiftly as the speed of trust, making trust between partners critical for navigating the global economy. He defines leadership as producing results while inspiring trust, a pragmatic approach that enhances an organization’s ability to execute existing strategies. Mr. Covey’s insights on trust, leadership, ethics, and high performance have made him a sought-after speaker and advisor.

In this interview with American Essence, Mr. Covey discusses his latest book, “Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others,” in which he challenges the traditional “Command & Control” model of leadership in favor of “Trust & Inspire,” whereby leaders can foster creativity and potential within people.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

American Essence: What prompted you to explore the theme of trust in leadership and organizations as a central focus of your life’s work?

Mr. Covey: I was profoundly influenced by my father, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Certainly by his professional work, but before it was out in the world it was in our home—we kids were the first guinea pigs!

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book, my father tells the story of “Green & Clean,” which is about teaching me to take care of our lawn when I was 7 years old. He uses the story to illustrate stewardship and win-win agreements. But I was 7—I had no idea what those things even meant! I just knew that he trusted me, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Through the years, it has become clear to me that being trusted is the most inspiring form of human motivation. Going into business, and particularly as a CEO, I began to really understand that trust is not merely a soft, social virtue but rather a hard-edged, economic driver. Trust always affects the speed at which we can move, and the cost of everything.

Over time, I began to see the presence (or absence) of trust everywhere and in everything. It became clear that trust is the one thing that changes everything, and that trust is a learnable skill—a competency. Experiencing and understanding trust from this perspective is what makes trust so powerful, so accessible, and so relevant.

AE: Can you discuss the importance of nurturing talent in others and how it ties into the concept of inspiring leadership?

Mr. Covey: I like the way this question is asked. One of the 5 Fundamental Beliefs of Trust & Inspire Leaders is that “people have greatness inside of them—so my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not control them.” The implication of this belief is that there is genuine talent within everyone.

I maintain that the role of a leader is like that of a gardener, where the real power, the potential, is within the seed. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word “inspirare,” which means “to breathe life into.” Without the proper conditions—water, soil, light—a seed will remain dormant, never realizing what it can do or become. The gardener nurtures and creates the right conditions for that seed to grow and flourish.

With people, we first have to really see someone’s potential. I like how Henry David Thoreau put it: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” When we see another’s potential, we can then communicate it to them so that they come to see it themselves. Then, our job as leaders is to develop their potential, and then, ultimately, to unleash it. It’s an ongoing cycle: see, communicate, develop, and unleash potential.

AE: Can you elaborate on the central concept of “Trust & Inspire” and how it addresses the challenges of traditional leadership models in today’s world?

Mr. Covey: The basis for traditional leadership flows heavily out of the industrial age. It’s often referred to as “Command & Control.” It’s all about efficiency and getting results through people. That’s not a bad thing; people are the ones who do the work, and we’ve made a great deal of progress in how they’re treated over the years. The central premise, though, is that people are a means to an end. Trust & Inspire is also centrally focused on results, but recognizes that people are not just a “means to an end”; they are an end, in and of themselves.

When people experience that they and their own growth and development matter as much as the results they produce, they’re inspired. When people are inspired, they’re able to tap into far greater levels of energy, engagement, creativity, passion, and commitment. They become phenomenally capable and perform better. Plus, they experience greater well-being. You simply cannot “Command & Control” this kind of performance out of people—you can’t buy it out of them. But they are able to tap into this, and contribute this, when they feel trusted and inspired.

(Biba Kayewich for American Essence)

AE: In your view, what are the key attributes that differentiate a leader who focuses on trust and inspiration from one who relies on authority and control?

Mr. Covey: Command & Control and Trust & Inspire are both focused on outcomes. Command & Control leaders tend to rely heavily on management of both people and things to get outcomes. Trust & Inspire leaders differentiate between management and leadership. Both skill sets are vital, but they are as different as they are important. The reality is that people don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. They want to be trusted, they want to be inspired.

AE: Could you provide an example from your book that illustrates the transformational impact of the “Trust & inspire” leadership model on an organization or team?

Mr. Covey: The transformation at Microsoft after Satya Nadella became CEO is a good case-in-point. At the time, the organization was really struggling. In Nadella’s words, “Innovation was being replaced by bureaucracy. Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind.” They were also losing talent left and right. Satya came in, working closely with his executive vice president of human resources, Kathleen Hogan, and focused on changing the culture. They started with themselves and modeled the kind of behavior they were seeking: humility and courage, authenticity and vulnerability, empathy and performance. The leadership paradigm became one of trusting and inspiring others, manifested by adopting a growth mindset, not just for the leaders, but for everyone.

AE: In your research and experience, what challenges might leaders face when transitioning to a more trust-based leadership style? Any advice on how they can overcome these challenges?

Mr. Covey: I’ve learned the biggest barrier to becoming a Trust & Inspire leader tends to be that most people think they already are one! It’s a good problem to have because in general many really are partway there. What I find when I share what a Trust & Inspire leader is, people completely agree with the concept—intellectually. We know Command & Control doesn’t work well, and I don’t know that I have come across anyone who hasn’t experienced a Trust & Inspire leader somewhere in their life. The difference is night and day, the impact is profound, and most intend to lead this way and be this kind of leader for others.

What happens is that “style” often gets in the way of intent. We’re all deeply scripted, and when the pressure is on, we tend to go for efficiency and revert to what we know. This theme comes up constantly. The good news is that we can learn and choose to match our style to our intent.

People really want to operate this way, but have genuine concerns. They may feel like “this clearly is better, but it just won’t work here,” or “this is who I am, it’s who I’ve always been.” Some may sincerely fear “what if I lose control?” or “I don’t know how to let go.” These are all valid concerns, and I offer a mindset and solution to each of them.

(Biba Kayewich for American Essence)

AE: What strategies can leaders use to create an environment that encourages open communication, risk-taking, and learning from failures?

Mr. Covey: I highlight three stewardships of Trust & Inspire leaders: Modeling, Trusting, & Inspiring. Modeling is always the best place to start. Go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first. Model open communication, risk-taking, and learning from failure.

Trusting others deliberately and explicitly to do the same is incredibly powerful. When they have your trust and really know that your trust is in them, rather than being conditional upon the outcome, you get far better outcomes.

Inspiring is to take an experience, even a failure, and imbue it with purpose. It proves the risk is worth it. It encourages a worker to become a creator.

When we model, trust, and inspire, we cultivate fertile soil that encourages and brings the very best out of others.

AE: Could you share some practical techniques or exercises from your book that leaders can use to build trust and inspire their teams?

Mr. Covey: On building trust, we certainly have to be trustworthy, but I work with organizations all over the world that are filled with trustworthy people, and yet, have low trust. To really build trust, you have to give it to get it. In other words, you not only need to be trustworthy, you need to be trusting. Look for ways to extend meaningful trust.

To inspire, start with yourself. It’s like the airline metaphor: Put your own mask on first before helping others. If you’re not inspired, you’ll have a hard time inspiring anyone else. An unlit candle cannot light other candles, but a lit candle can.

Second, connect with people through genuine caring and building a real sense of belonging. Caring will allow you to inspire others, and belonging on a team leads to the team inspiring each other.

An exercise I might add, that has an enormous impact on both building trust and inspiring, is this: Treat people according to their potential, not their behavior. There’s no better way to unleash that potential. Practice this. Don’t “eat the elephant all at once” and try to do this with everyone. Begin with one person. Ask yourself, “Who in my personal or professional life would benefit most by being trusted and inspired by me?” And then start there.

From Dec. Issue, Volume 3