The Greatest Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from FDR

Jonathan L. Hua

 

     These days, the phrase “presidential trailblazer” sounds like a paradox. After all, America has been through a

myriad of crises and has seen the darkest of times; we just need to look into a distant mirror in history all the way

back to the Great Depression. Twelve presidents have come and gone since then, but it was President Franklin

Delano Roosevelt, otherwise known as FDR, who laid the groundwork for every future president and leader to

come. So how did FDR become endearingly known as one of the greatest U.S. presidents and a role model for all

leaders? Unsurprisingly, much of it has to do with two familiar words in the corporate world: executive presence. 

   

      FDR was elected to office in a time of severe economic turmoil and had the monumental task of overcoming

seemingly insurmountable pessimism among the American people. But FDR was pragmatic and had the ability to

forge an emotional connection with the American public. He was forthright and honest in his assessment of the

difficulties that America faced in the post-Great Depression chaos. Roosevelt was also an innovative leader. FDR

molded national opinion and political support for his programs by frequently reaching out to the public through

his informal fireside radio chats.1 This forever changed the modern use of news media within the government. He

held an unprecedented number of press conferences (700+ in his first two terms)2 to cultivate support and derive

information about opinion in the nation. In his press conferences, Roosevelt placed himself openly before the

nation and “he entered the living rooms of ordinary Americans”3 in his fireside radio addresses.

 

     In the face of shaky morale and instability, FDR had unshakable confidence and poise. His composure in the

face of immense pressure and ability to project gravitas were his greatest strengths as a leader. He liked politics and

loved people. He was confident of his own strength and ability to lead, manage and succeed. 

 

     As a result of his support and influence, FDR was able to initiate his successful “Hundred Days” of concentrated

legislative activity and influence, where he sent “fifteen messages to Congress, delivered ten major addresses,

guided at least fifteen significant laws to enactment, launched his fireside chats, held press conferences and

conducted endless cabinet and advisory group meetings.”4 Roosevelt’s energy invigorated the nation and his

proactive approach gave everyone hope in a time of despair. 

 

     FDR’s transformative influence embodied not just personality traits, but the essential elements of the American

character: our faith in ourselves, our spirit of experimentation, and our hope for the future. Roosevelt was a

forward thinking role model for future leaders. His fearlessness and his ability to win over the trust of the

American people allowed him to change our perception of successful leadership. Every leader should seek to

embody the innovative and interpersonal characteristics that defined Roosevelt’s leadership style.

 

Bibliographic Information

1 Cronin 278

2 Alter 264 

3 Alter 264

Alter, Jonathan. The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. New York: Simon & 

Schuster, 2006. Print. 

Cronin, Thomas E., and William R. Hochman. "Franklin D. Roosevelt and The American Presidency." Presidential 

Studies Quarterly 15.2 (1985): 277-86. JSTOR. Web. 13 Sep. 2015. 

<http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550206>.

4 Cronin 280

Alter, Jonathan. The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. New York: Simon & 

Schuster, 2006. Print. 

Cronin, Thomas E., and William R. Hochman. "Franklin D. Roosevelt and The American Presidency." Presidential 

Studies Quarterly 15.2 (1985): 277-86. JSTOR. Web. 13 Sep. 2015. 

<http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550206>.