Few leaders can match Theodore Roosevelt’s record for productivity, writing and excellence in multiple fields. In August, I finished reading “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris. It was an outstanding biography. As I read the book, it occurred to me to share some of the leadership hacks I learned. In today’s article, I will share how Roosevelt developed himself and become a leader before entering the White House at age forty two.
Building The Bull Moose: The Origin Story of Theodore Roosevelt
By the time he reached his 20s, Theodore Roosevelt was a model of strength and health. His endurance in hunting, hiking and other pursuits astonished many of his friends and associates. However, he did not start that way. As a child and teenager, Roosevelt suffered from constant health problems including asthma. Fortunately, he was determined to improve himself through study, exercise and discipline.
1. Developing Health and Fitness
As a young boy, Roosevelt was in poor health. He struggled with asthma and other health limits. Based on his father’s advice, Roosevelt embarked on an intense physical training program. Unfortunately, the early results were not encouraging. Following an unsuccessful fight with several other boys, Roosevelt resolved to change. Morris reports the moment:
The humiliation forced him to realize that his two years of body-building had achieved only token results. No matter how remarkable his progress might seem to himself, by the harsh standards of the world he was still a weakling… There and then he decided to join what would later call ‘the fellowship of the doers.’ If he had exercised hard before, he must do so twice as hard now. (pg 35)
Fortunately, he persisted with his efforts to develop himself physically. Building his strength and physical skills laid a foundation for his remarkable levels of energy and productivity that carried him through to success in future roles.
Fitness Hack: As a leader, it pays to start with yourself before you seek to lead others. Roosevelt’s experience shows that that self leadership takes several forms including improving your health and fitness. Committing to a daily program of improvement is an excellent approach. An inability (or disinterest) to manage yourself well tends to undermine
2. Developing Curiosity About The World
As Roosevelt explored New York State and Europe during his travels, Roosevelt dedicated a keen eye for detail and description. When he was a teenager, Roosevelt and his family went for a long trip through Europe and the Middle East. During his travels, he made detailed notes about the people and places he saw. As a teenager in the 1870s, he wrote in his diary about Egypt: “How I gazed upon it! It was Egypt, the land of my dreams.. A land that was old when Rome was bright.”
The Curious Hack: Adopting a curious view of the world will help you to become a better leader. Staying curious also keeps you in the beginner’s mindset. A leader who doesn’t care about new developments and challenges will soon be left standing alone.
3. Complete Your Priorities By Waking Up Early
Starting in his youth, Roosevelt had a wide range of interests including history, boxing, natural science and reading. In order to accommodate the sheer variety of his interests, Roosevelt changed his routines. During his Harvard studies, he would wake up early and put in several hours of work on his studies. That left the afternoons and evenings free to pursue other activities. He lectured at the Nuttal Ornithological Club and presented papers to the Harvard Natural History Society.
Lessons From Roosevelt The Early Leader
Seeking elected office remains one of the world’s most greatest leadership challenges. As a young man, Roosevelt faced challenges in confronting corruption across the board. His decision to fight corruption and to refuse such enticements were hard decisions that enhanced his credibility.
4. Roosevelt Finds A Cause
Shortly after entering th eNew York Assembly, Roosevelt found his first great political cause: fighting corruption. It was a great cause to target because corruption was everywhere in the political world at that time. For years, Roosevelt focused his attention on public servants who abused their jobs for financial gain. He attacked cases of people misusing their expenses accounts, receiving bribes and those who handed out promotions to their friends. Unlike some other causes of the day, corruption was also an easy to understand issue for the public. Roosevelt built much of his early political career on a foundation of fighting corruption.
The Inspiring Cause Hack: To reach success as a leader, you need to work toward a goal larger than yourself. For Roosevelt, that cause was fighting corruption.
5. Roosevelt Changes Direction
Following his graduation from Harvard University in 1880, Roosevelt began law school at Columbia Law School. Enrolling in law school is a common move for those interested in a public career. Despite that alignment, Roosevelt decided that legal studies were not right for him. He decided to leave Columbia and work on political affairs.
The Change Directions Hack: If your current studies or pursuits are not engaging you, don’t be afraid to make a change. Roosevelt’s example also shows that you can achieve success as a leader without formal credentials.
6. Roosevelt Builds His Reputation Through Research, Publishing and Writing
Published in 1882, Roosevelt’s first book – “The Naval War of 1812” – won wide acclaim from reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. He began work on the book while he was a student at Harvard and continued afterwards. In this work, Roosevelt brought several strengths to bear including a dedication to research (“to collect and analyze, in terms of comparative firepower, thousands of ballistic and logistic figures required the brain of a mathematician – which Theodore did not have. So he had to double-check his calculations until every last discrepancy had worked itself out” – pg 120). Publishing this book helped Roosevelt connect with historians, admirals and statesmen.
The Publishing Hack: Publishing original research remains an excellent way to contribute to your field and position yourself as a leader.
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