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Professor Garfinkle’s New Book Looks to Great Leaders to Model Success for Children at Risk for Depression

Great leaders exhibit courage, vision and charisma that make them role models. City Tech’s Martin Garfinkle is more interested in a lesser-known trait common to several – clinical depression – to show how their personal struggles could be used to help children at risk for this condition.

That’s the focus of his new self-help book, The Lion’s Roar: Dealing with Life’s Ups and Downs Using the Wisdom of Winston Churchill and Other Great Leaders Week by Week (Park East Press, $15.95). Garfinkle approached his research from both a scholarly and a personal angle, reviewing an extraordinary amount of material and delving into the writings of great leaders, especially Churchill’s nine-volume biography. Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, wrote to Garfinkle encouraging him to write his 108-page book.

“Real heroes didn’t get there because they were great,” explains Garfinkle, a professor of human services at City Tech. “They became great because of their struggles at the personal and the macro level.” He concludes that the qualities that created great leaders stemmed from and were applied to personal struggles.

A specialist in addiction, alcoholism and substance abuse, as well as a marriage and family counselor, Garfinkle delineates how despite early traumas, serious illnesses, speech defects, lack of confidence, personal and political setbacks, Churchill became one of the world’s most revered statesmen and orators.

In addition to Churchill, who called his experience of depression “the black dog,” Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all suffered from bouts of depression and sadness, which Garfinkle says contributed to the leadership qualities these men showed even during difficult times.

“Today Lincoln would be diagnosed as bipolar; Churchill was a physically and emotionally abused child, Roosevelt had to deal with the psychological impact of contracting polio and King suffered from melancholy,” says Garfinkle. He points out that the tools they used to overcome their difficult childhoods and later trials as adults can be a model for children at risk for any form of depression. Each of the 52 short chapters ends with advice and questions followed by space to write what actions the reader has taken that week to move forward in his or her life.

He cites the examples of Lincoln governing the U.S. as it was being torn apart by the Civil War, Churchill leading England during the worst years of World War II, Roosevelt bringing the U.S. through the Great Depression and World War II, and King spearheading the fight against racism.

Garfinkle identifies nine traits that he feels contributed to their leadership abilities: persistence, tenacity, humor, mindfulness, adventurism, the ability to compensate, having strong personal relationships, maintaining a high level of activity and being proactive.

Garfinkle uses Churchill as a case study to model success for children at risk for depression. The coping mechanisms Churchill developed, he says, can be encouraged in these children, who “tend to give up easily, harbor feelings of low self-esteem and compensate for these feelings through acting out behavior.”

He points out, “In spite of setbacks, Churchill would try again until he was successful. He knew what his goals were and that he would reach them in time. He had a sense of humor that helped him cope with challenging situations. To overcome his lisp and stutter and fear of public speaking, he rehearsed his speeches, mastering them by sheer hard work. He took up hobbies such as painting, which increased his confidence. He had lifelong friends and a long marriage. And if he was impatient, he would make things happen rather than wait for them to happen.”

Garfinkle believes that children at risk for affective disorders should be encouraged to develop skills that reward tenacity and steadfastness, to try new things, even if they fear they will not be good at them, and to develop age-appropriate goals. He recommends meditation as a focusing technique to quiet the mind and decrease anxiety. If these children compensate for their weaknesses with hard work, they will develop self-confidence and see their own progress.

“Children who suffered from abuse and neglect need to understand that they can overcome the difficulties of the past and even draw strength from them,” says Garfinkle. He quotes Churchill’s famous advice to the graduating class of Harrow, his alma mater: “Never give in, never, never, never – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

The professor’s interest in the subject is also a result of his own experience of depression, anxiety and panic disorder 25 years ago. Of his struggle, he says, “By accident, I stumbled on Churchill and Lincoln. Serendipitously, I found that most great leaders suffer from depression. ‘Here were people who overcame their issues,’ I thought, ‘so I can.’ Now I look to great leaders for inspiration and insight whenever I have a tough decision to make.”

Garfinkle’s new book grew out of a paper he presented two summers ago at the Oxford University Round Table’s 20th anniversary program. This work complements a second paper, “What Great Leaders Can Teach Us About Success in Life: An Exploration of the Lives of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King,” which he presented at City Tech’s Faculty Research Conference.

At City Tech, Garfinkle teaches Introduction to Counseling, Group Dynamics, a field practicum, and Case Management. His students do field work in clinics, social welfare agencies and substance abuse agencies. “What is important to me as a clinician is to get out the message about applying these mental struggles of great leaders to move forward in life, and not to think they succeeded because they were lucky or grew up wealthy.”

Garfinkle is also the author of The Jewish Community of Washington, D.C (Images of America Series, Arcadia Publishing, 2005); and, with Stephen Soiffer, New York City College of Technology (Campus History Series, 2007).  A native of Washington, DC, he migrated north to attend Yeshiva University; he is a longtime resident of Willowbrook, Staten Island and a member of Temple Young Israel of Staten Island.


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