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Roosevelt's Rough Riding Leadership

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Upon reading an article in the New York Times about actor Tom Berenger, I went on YouTube and watched the 3-hour TNT Mini-series “Rough Riders” about our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt. What a story. I am a huge TR fan anyway, having read at least ten books on his life. My favorite was the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. A few years ago, I visited his home, Sagamore Hill, now a museum on Long Island. They had to kick me out.

Teddy was a force of nature, larger than life in all he did. He had no equal, he was peerless. Some say, one of the 20th century’s great leaders. You ei-ther loved him or you hated him. Edith Wharton wrote, “If you are spread-ing light to the world, it may be accomplished two ways, be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Teddy was both. His daughter, Alice, once said, “He wants to be the corpse at every funeral and groom at every wedding!”

Here is my short list of admirable leadership qualities TR possessed. How many could improve your leadership skills in your business?

  • He had an extraordinary love of learning. He read a book a day! He spoke German and French fluently. That skill came in handy when he charged up San Juan Hill and captured a German-made machine gun that didn’t work. The wounded German soldier told them how to use the gun as TR translated German to English. It was the turning point in the battle that made him famous; a true American Hero.
  • He truly cared about his men. He memorized 1,250 Rough Riders’ names. He would wander the camp at night encouraging his men, asking questions and listening to their concerns. To shift their focus from the fear of the next battle, he often asked the question, “What are you looking forward to after this war?” Brilliant.
  • He led by example. He was fearless as he led the charge up San Juan Hill at 40 years old. What he lacked in military knowledge he made up for in courage and audacity. He was a man of destiny.
  • He accepted criticism from his boss, Col. Leonard Wood and demon-strated humility and a willingness to change. Not an easy task for TR. He was used to being the silverback gorilla in the troop.
  • He was brutally honest in his assessment of any situation, including his opinion of President McKinley: “That man has the backbone of a choco-late eclair!” (No, Teddy, don’t hold back; tell us how you really feel!)
  • He loved action, the thrill of the battle, yet he was not afraid to show his emotions. At the end of Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, as he sat crying, one of his men said, “It’s okay Colonel, we won.” He replied, “It’s never going to be this great again.” He was reflecting upon what he later called his “Crowded Hour,” the most gloriously exciting time of his life. His heroics put him in the governor’s mansion and, eventually, the White House.
  • He was a devoted husband and loving father of six children. A true leader at home and work. He had the kind of balance few men in his po-sition ever attain. He created the first “home office” so he could spend time with his children. The world came up to Long Island as a result.
  • He bounced back from personal and professional adversity in his life. He lost his wife and mother on the same day! Next to Lincoln, he was the most criticized president this country had ever seen. Yet he kept charging up hills.
  • He changed careers many times in his life: student, ornithologist, politi-cian, soldier, author, speaker, big game hunter, naturalist, world trav-eler, explorer and diplomat. He was a true Man of Letters, writing over 50,000 in his lifetime. Moreover, he wrote 35 books, many on different topics!
  • He gave everything he had to the moment. Whatever he was doing, he gave it 100%, whether it was writing a book, delivering a speech, riding a horse or leading a charge. “Carpe Diem” was his mantra. Ever excited about the next big thing he was going to do, the phrase “Bully” was of-ten heard with great enthusiasm.

Our 26th president was the brightest candle and biggest mirror of the 20th century. There will never be another “Teddy.” A true man of destiny. I need to watch that movie again… it’s so “bully!”