I’ve been working my way through Edmund Morris’ outstanding three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt. In these books we are shown a strong, self-possessed polymath who seemed destined for greatness right from the start. The man was undoubtedly flawed in many ways. In relationships he seemed aloof but loyal, in business poor in managing finances. But in most every other manner he was capable and able to excel.
Success, it seems, is sometimes left to chance. At times it is mostly smarts or talent. And we cannot ignore the importance of connections. However, a common trait in very successful people it seems is an inability to conform to the behaviors of those around them, an innate and almost unconscious resignation to remain true to their core being.
This is completely true for Mr. Roosevelt, who’s leadership ability begins with a clear view of a situation and ends with the respect of those around him, even those who opposed his ideas.
Roosevelt is well known for his environmental stance. Seeing the destruction of the plains and experiencing the decimation of the buffalo herds first hand, he was driven to preserve as much of the west as possible. He knew there was more to nature than the raw materials used for creating products and wealth. Some of the most beautiful spots in the US have been preserved because of this foresight. Where a generation might have prospered due to the clear cut destruction of a redwood forest, dozens have prospered due to conservation.
In all his accomplishments a character trend appears. Eight lessons from the life of Theodore Roosevelt:
- Morality is a slippery slope in life, business, and politics. Avoid the slope and stay focused on what you know is right. Time and time again Mr. Roosevelt was faced with the option to stay true to what he believed to be right or capitulate. Often the later would have made his life easier. But he was unwilling to do so.
- Nothing is won approached half-ass. Mr. Roosevelt wouldn’t read a newspaper without a vehement sense of purpose. You would not see him in the background passive-aggressively directing people or manipulating a situation. He was at the front of all of his ideals and everyone knew what he intended to accomplish.
- Be open to everyone, from the leaders of the country to those who sweep the floor. Learn their language and be willing to take on their tasks. Mr. Roosevelt was a star at the finest academic salons in the east while willing to sleep on the ground in a forest or herd cattle.
- You do not have to be the best. But you do have to put yourself out there. He wrote and wrote and wrote, from books to articles to letters. Where he is remembered for being a president, many learned his name from the books he published. A few texts are of note, but many lacking in deep substance. Who we remember today is the president, not the author of decent books.
- Learn everything you can. Mr. Roosevelt was known to read more than one book a day, and across a variety of subjects. He was continually extending his knowledge base and had a rich frame of reference from which to draw.
- If times are not challenging, you are not trying hard enough. We often view adversity as a challenge to be avoided through strategies and planning. To the contrary, adversity might in fact be a symptom of a trajectory worth pursuing. The popular opinion is not necessarily the one people will remember in years to come. No one remembers those who simply live in the shadows of others, or conform to the accepted values of the day. History books are written by those who have struggled.
- Stay fearless, or appear so, even when your world comes crashing down. People will always respect you for it.
- Most importantly, destiny is only understood in hindsight. He would not let himself dream for fear of disappointment. He took on what came to him and lived fully in whatever position he received. Nothing was a stepping stone.