Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Bully Pulpit
James M. Strock
Three Rivers Press (2001)

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt

I selected the quotation for the title of my review because it expresses so well Theodore Roosevelt’s core values throughout his life. He was a man of action (mentally as well as physically) who made highly effective use of the resources available, whatever the given circumstances may be. Those who have read James Strock’s previous book, Lead to Serve, already know that he is a staunch advocate of values affirmed by Robert K. Greenwood in his essay “The Servant as Leader(first published in 1970) and later developed into a book. Please keep that in mind.

Perhaps because he was a victim of bullies when he was a sickly child (“wobbly on pipe-stem legs, too weak to offer more than feeble resistance”), Roosevelt in his adult life considered it a privilege to protect as well as serve those entrusted to his care while a deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory and then as a leader of the Rough Riders fighting in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Later, his trust busting campaign challenged formidable power brokers on Wall Street and elsewhere whom average citizens could not. Ironically, while president, he expressed his outrage and enlisted support by taking fully advantage of what he characterized as the “bully pulpit.”

However, this is not a full-scale biography of the 26th president, nor does it attempt to be. The historical material serves as a context in which to focus on Roosevelt’s leadership and the lessons that can be learned from it. Consider this passage:

“Bringing the curtain down on an era when government was viewed as the handmaiden, if not the courtesan, of regnant financial and industrial combinations, Roosevelt declared that a transcendent, incontrovertible as the representative and guardian of the public interest. He was the first president to apply federal government authority on behalf of organized labor in a dispute with management. His leadership was indispensable in securing significant regulation of railroads.” Roosevelt was raised in the “Silk Stocking” district of Manhattan and schooled at home by tutors for reasons of health, later graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard.

Merely listing his strengths as a leader fails to reveal personality of someone who was described by those who knew him as “a steam engine in trousers,” “pure act,” “a child of seven,” possessed of a “violent and spasmodic” mind, and widely viewed in foreign countries as “the typical American.” Roosevelt also remains the only president to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the most prolific author among those who have served as president. According to Strock, “The overriding lesson of Theodore Roosevelt is that leadership is a way of life.” His was a strenuous life indeed.

Those who wish to learn more about him are encouraged to check out these three volumes written by Edmund Morris:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Rex
Colonel Roosevelt

Those in need of a less-comprehensive biography of him are directed to Theodore Roosevelt: The American Presidents Series: The 26th President, 1901-1909 written by Louis Auchincloss.

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