Leadership. It’s an interesting concept. At least, to me, it is extremely fascinating. What is it about one person that makes other people follow him or her? How can one person convince others to follow their ideas? There are so many different types of leadership styles. It amazes me the causes that people will get behind based upon the charisma or convincing of leaders. Someone like Prince Charles has been groomed for a leadership role his entire life and not by his choice. In the United States, ideally, individuals chose to become society and political leaders and can work their way through the ranks to get there. However, the rise to leadership isn’t always so concise as a few of our presidents show. George Washington, as the first president, had nothing to guide him and everything to impact in American politics. Theodore Roosevelt became president upon the assassination of William McKinley. Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt after he passed form illness not long after his fourth term began. Each of these men, in a sense, was thrust into the presidency and the highest level of American leadership. Their leadership abilities, already in place with their characters, assisted them in succeeding as president.
George Washington set his unique place in history as soon as he accepted the presidency as he was the first president of the United States. His reputation as a leader is what led to the unanimous support behind him as president. That style of leadership was rooted in strong moral character, an unselfish nature, self-control, and a level of basic respect for everyone. It kept troops loyal to him at the crossing of the Delaware River when they were considering leaving. Political minds greater than his surrounded him, but it was Washington that was considered a genius and a visionary when it came to leadership. Additionally, the quality of his character set him apart. As a visionary leader, Washington was quite capable of setting long and short term goals and developed the role and culture of president in ways still used today.
“But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” George Washington
Theodore Roosevelt was another visionary leader as president and outside the presidency. I find him to be absolutely fascinating and underrated as a figure in American history. His leadership truly developed on the fly during the Spanish-American War when he led the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry. Roosevelt’s leadership style was evident here; he placed others before himself and acted alongside the others which resulted in lifelong loyalty from some of the Riders. A key component of leadership is doing alongside those you lead, rather than just telling how to lead, you show it. As a leader, he recognized the importance of continuing to learn and being flexible with those who disagreed with you. These are important qualities for a leader. Continuing to learn helps keep the skillset and mind sharp. Meanwhile, flexibility with those who disagree with you is extremely important because it shows an open mind and openness to ideas. As a leader, it is important to remain flexible and able to think outside the box. His other accomplishments represent his ability to lead. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and developed foreign policy in new ways for American, including the mantra “speak softly and carry a big stick.” As president, he also started the Panama Canal project, negotiated the Pure Food and Drug Act with Congress which continues to impact Americans, and did acts which protects natural resources, forests, and parks.
“But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Theodore Roosevelt
Finally, Harry S. Truman had a tough act to follow. He became president after the death of the popular, four term, Franklin Roosevelt. Truman was definitely thrust into the presidency; there were many things that Roosevelt did not privy his vice president to which impacted his transition into the presidency. As for his leadership style, Truman was a realist. He kept his boots on the ground. He valued honesty, humility, and taking responsibility – such as he did with the dropping of the atomic bombs, noting that the “blood was on his hands.” Truman didn’t worry about being popular with the people, but with doing the right thing. By utilizing HeH Herbert Hoover as a resource, he reconciled him with the American people and also started the “President’s club,” which is a resource still used by presidents today (There is an excellent, long book called “The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” which explains this institution and its role.). Truman also recognized the limits to his power and the separation between his position and the institution. As a leader, it is important to recognize the limits of yourself. Truman was considered a “leader’s leader,” President Jimmy Carter considered him to be his “favorite leader of the 20th century.”
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry Truman
I admire all three of these men as leaders, and find each of them to be interesting characters. There is much that we can learn from history when it comes to leadership, and I hope you enjoy this first leadership profile. I would like to write more on leadership, the different styles, and profiles of various historical leaders. Who is your favorite leader?
Peace and Love,