How To Lead Like A Roosevelt

VBI corporate trainer Dawn Kaiser

By Dawn Kaiser
The Village Business Institute 

Have you ever had someone you’ve never met influence your life? For me those individuals are the Roosevelts – in particular Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. I remember learning a little bit about Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt in school as we studied the Presidents of the United States, but I don’t ever remember hearing Eleanor’s name. That is until 2002, when Robin Gerber published her book, “Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way.” This remarkable author examined Eleanor’s life and leadership and used these lessons to challenge women everywhere to take greater leadership roles.

I have learned hundreds of lessons as a “student” of Eleanor. Here are just a few.

  1. Be flexible and adaptable: Leaders must be open to change and take decisive, bold action when changes happen in order to lead others through the change versus letting them stay stuck in the past.
  2. Align your values and your projects: No matter what the critics said, Eleanor adhered to her values and made sure that they aligned with the projects she took on as a leader. She did not let others steer her away from doing what she thought was right.
  3. Take personal responsibility: One of my favorite quotes from Gerber’s book is “We are personally responsible for who we become, who we choose to be.” There were many setbacks in Eleanor’s life, but she did not let them stop her from achieving great things. Each of us need to take accountability for the choices we make in life.
  4. Put your heart into your work: Eleanor once said “Work is easier to carry if your heart is involved.” As leaders, we need to lead with compassion, courage and character, all of which require a leader to lead from the heart. Feel free to email me at if you want to read an article I wrote on this topic called “The Heart of a Leader.”
  5. Be an advocate: One of the greatest lessons I learned from Eleanor was to be a voice for and to help those in need. I once googled her name and found out she once belonged to an organization called Altrusa Club of New York City. Then I discovered we had an Altrusa Club here in Fargo. Of course, I quickly joined the local club and now, as acting President, I get to be an advocate for and promote literacy, education and leadership for people in our community and around the world.  Find us on Facebook at Altrusa International of Fargo.

As I mentioned earlier, Eleanor is not the only Roosevelt who has influenced my life. Through Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly,” I immediately was inspired by an excerpt from Theodore’s speech about the “Man in the Arena,” which reads:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Those amazing and profound words continue to inspire me to take risks as a leader. To forge ahead even when others say it can’t be done or it looks too hard. It gives me the courage to show my vulnerability as a person and as a leader because I do not just want to survive but rather I want to thrive in life and work.

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932

Finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt has influenced my life not through his well-known quote of “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but rather through his words, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”  This was actually told to me by my dad my senior year of college and he told me that no matter what life brings, there will always be people to help me, I just need to be willing to ask. I don’t know about you, but asking for help is one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. As a leader, though, we have to realize we can’t do everything on our own. And when we ask for help, we are inviting people into the journey, the vision, or the project, and it creates a better outcome.

This past weekend I watched Ken Burns’ documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” on PBS and it reminded me again how much these three individuals have influenced my life and my leadership. They are not perfect leaders; nor are we. But each of us are “fellow travelers on the road to a better world.” As you journey through life, think about the legacy you are leaving. Maybe one day someone will write an article about a person who has influenced their life, and the person they mention will be YOU. Live Well. Lead Well. Labor Well.

 Author Bio

Dawn Kaiser is an inspirational educator, joyologist, blogger, altruist and positive thought leader. She specializes in heart-driven leadership, positive psychology and personal achievement. Dawn focuses on helping hundreds of clients all over the world thrive both personally and professionally in life through her work at The Village Business Institute.