Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Leadership in Turbulent Times” is the story of four US American presidents. Each begins with his upbringing and earliest recognition of leadership abilities, then shifts to formative life experiences that shaped his leadership, and finally a description of a major leadership challenge that would define his presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley just six months into McKinley’s second term. Roosevelt had six months as Vice President on his resume, along with two years as governor of New York. He had also held several other government positions and had served in the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt’s love of the outdoors and adventure is well-documented, as his is childhood struggles with health.
Roosevelt was much more progressive than the conservative McKinley, but when Roosevelt stepped into the presidency following McKinley’s death, he worked hard to maintain a sense of continuity by asking the current cabinet members to remain in their jobs and pledging his commitment to McKinley’s campaign platform of peace, prosperity, and honor. However, a labor crisis in 1902 would shape Roosevelt’s legacy as he found creative solutions to bend his Constitutional powers.
When the United Mine Workers, the largest union in the nation at the time, decided to strike in the spring of 1902, it threatened to create, in Roosevelt’s estimation, “the most widespread and bloody civil disturbance we have known in our time.” The Executive Branch of government had no constitutional authority to intervene, nor was there was there any legal or historical precedent for such action. Roosevelt spent the first few months of the strike simply keeping an eye on the situation and methodically considering ways he might help resolve the crisis.
As the summer months gave way to autumn and the possibility of a winter without coal became very real, Roosevelt increased the urgency. He used his personal charm and charisma in a public relations effort, taking a page from Abraham Lincoln’s playbook. He also relied on his optimism, his patience, and his relational skills ultimately to resolve the crisis peacefully. Roosevelt leveraged his influence as the president in ways that had not been done before, and established a role for government in the relationship between capital and labor.
Roosevelt’s personality was as much a factor in the success of this endeavor as his strategy. Like Lincoln before him, Roosevelt was generous with praise and credit for success, open to suggestions and differences of opinion, and held a high view of the best in human nature. His positivity was not unlike another Republican president, the “Gipper” himself, Ronald Reagan, though Reagan’s attitudes toward government intervention and capitalism would be very different than Roosevelt’s.
In “The Undefended Leader,” Simon Walker highlights Reagan as an example of the “PWX” or “Affiliative Strategy.” Leaders who operate from this perspective have the ability to draw people into a shared sense of purpose and are often responsive and affirming of people in a highly relational way. Affiliative leadership is more front stage than back, but not in a way that focuses on obligation, but instead by “winning hearts and minds,…finding that emotional resonance.” While Walker lifts up Reagan as an example, it is easy to see Teddy Roosevelt functioning with this style as well.
This also stands as an example of well-differentiated leadership as Edwin Friedman outlines. That is, “the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes; the capacity to obtain clarity about one’s principles and values; the willingness to be exposed and to be vulnerable; persistence in the face of inertial resistance; and self-regulation in the face of reactive sabotage.”
Roosevelt was, and remains, the youngest person in US American history to become president. Yet some believe he may have been the best prepared, especially for the time in which he served. His personality and style were unique, but he also relished the opportunity the presidency afforded him to guide the USA into the 20th century. His ability to “win friends and influence people,” as Dale Carnegie once said, along with his willingness to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” as T.R. himself famously said, place him, quite literally, on the Mount Rushmore of American leaders.
If Roosevelt’s example speaks any truth, perhaps it highlights the virtue of being true to and leading from one’s authentic self.
 Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018,) 243-4.
 Ibid, 245.
 Ibid, 271.
 “The Gipper” became a nickname for Reagan, though it came from a line Reagan once spoke in a movie in which he played a character based on a Notre Dame football player named George Gipp.
 Simon Walker, “The Undefended Leader,” (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2010,) 221.
 Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve,” (New York: Church Publishing, 2017,) 96.
 David McCollough, “Mornings on Horseback,” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003,) 363.