Part 2: Lessons From The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Last week, I posted Part 1 of Lessons in Leadership from Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I shared four lessons from this exhaustive biography:image
1. Never underestimate the power of early education.
2. Never underestimate the influence of strong parental values.
3. Never underestimate the benefits of vigorous self-improvement.
4. Never underestimate the value of Providence.

This week I want to share leadership lessons 5-8 from the life of this extraordinary young man:

5. Death is not always the end; sometimes it is the beginning.
Roosevelt understood the depths of grief. He lost his father at an early age. And he suffered the loss of his first wife and mother on the same day. These losses, however, seemed to cause him a motivation to throw himself into new work and pursuits. Grief is what drove him to go west–a decision that forever changed his understanding of the American west as well as changed his understanding of others and himself. Through his suffering, he learned lessons that would shape him as a man and future President. Lesson: Sometimes our most creative, productive achievements are born out of our deepest times of loss.

6. Publicity is a powerful promotional tool.
Starting his adult life in state politics, Roosevelt soon learned the power of the press. Whenever he met obstacles or needed public awareness, he used his relationship with the press to further those causes. Sometimes this back-fired, and he became the focus point of critical editorials. But more often than not, he learned how to promote issues of importance to influence policy changes or affect public opinion. Lesson: Communication of your ideas with a vast audience is a great way to grow momentum for a worthy cause.

7. A solitary focus on your enemies, instead of friends, will lead to an inevitable dead end.
Not all of Roosevelt’s tendencies were admirable. As police commisioner of New York City, he learned the painful lesson of unilateral decision making. During this assignment, he reacted with furious tirades at a fellow commissioner’s resistance to his reforms. His tendency to bully his way back-fired, and the resulting stalemat kept him from seeing any further  improvements there. This painful lesson served him well in future posts. Although still fiercely independent, he learned the value of seeking consensus from others in order to push ahead positive reforms. Lesson: Learning to count your cost before a battle, even by seeking common ground with those who may resist you, is a smarter path to change than one-man victories.

8. Courage is inspiring.
Finally, Roosevelt’s personal courage truly made him remarkable. Whether it was taking on bosses in his own Republican Party, going fist-to-cuff with bullying statesmen, chasing down and arresting theives in the Wild West, or leading Calvary-men on deadly but victorious charges, he never hesitated to fight a good fight. Behind each of these instances was a motivation that was often greater than personal promotion. If you believe his own words and journals, Roosevelt truly believed it was worth fighting evil or corruption to promote the common good. And he didn’t mind the thrill of it either. Lesson: When you are confronted by difficulty, remember that your response affects not only the situation but how those around you may respond to their own difficulities. So make it a courageous response.

Conclusion: Theodore Roosevelt’s early life is both inspiring and challenging. He is a man who accomplished more in his early years than most of us will in our lifetime. But his example shows us truths from which we can all benefit. He learned deep lessons from his wrestlings with grief, understood the power of communication, benefited from defeats as well as victories, and often chose the more difficult paths when he knew they were the right ones. As a result, he made a difference. With God’s help, we can make a difference too.

Questions: How have you learned to turn difficulties into opportunities? Share one way you have grown through adversity.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker