Roosevelt’s Rough Riding Leadership

Upon reading an article on actor Tom Berenger, I went on YouTube and watched the 3-hour TNT Mini-series “Rough Riders” about our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt. What a story. I am a huge TR fan, having read at least ten books on his life. My favorite was the Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris. A few years ago, I visited his home, now a museum on Long Island. They had to kick me out.

Teddy was a force of nature, larger than life in all he did. He had no equal he was peer-less. Either you loved him or you hated him. Edith Wharton wrote, “If you are spreading light to the world, it may be accomplished two ways, be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” TR was both.

Here is my short list of admirable qualities leadership TR possessed. He was:

  • He had an extra-ordinary love of learning. He read a book a day. He spoke German and French. That skill came in handy when he charged up San Juan Hill and a machine gun they captured that didn’t work. The wounded German soldier told them how to use the gun as TR translated German to English. It was the turning point in the battle.
  • He truly cared about his men. He memorized 1,250 Rough Riders names. He would wander the camp at night encouraging is men, asking questions and listening to their concerns. He often asked the question, “What are you looking forward to after this war?” Brilliant.
  • He led by example. He was fearless as he led the charge up the hill at 40 years old. What he lacked in military knowledge he made up for in courage and audacity.
  • He accepted criticism from Col. Leonard Wood and demonstrated humility and a willingness to change. Not an easy task for TR. He was used to being the Silver Back Gorilla in the troop.
  • He was brutally honest in his assessment of any situation, including his opinion of President McKinley, “That man has the backbone of a chocolate éclair!” (“No, Teddy, don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel!”)
  • He loved the action, the thrill of the battle, yet he was not afraid to show his emotions. At the end of Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, as he sat crying, one of his men said, “It is okay Colonel, we won.” He replied, “It’s never going to be this great again.” He was reflecting upon what he later called his “Crowded Hour.” The most gloriously exciting time of his life. His heroics put him in the Governors’ mansion and eventually the White House.
  • He was a devoted husband and loving father of six children. A true leader at home and work. He had the kind of balance few men in his position ever attained.
  • He bounced back from personal and professional adversity in his life. He lost his wife and mother on the same day! Next to Lincoln, he was the most criticized president this country had ever seen.
  • He changed careers many times in his life: student, ornithologist, politician, soldier, author, speaker, big game hunter, naturalist, world traveler, and diplomat.
  • He gave everything he had to the moment. Whatever he was doing, he gave it 100%, whether it was writing a book, delivering a speech, riding a horse, or leading a charge. “Carpe Diem” was his mantra. Ever excited about the next big thing he was going to do, the phrase “Bully” was often heard with great enthusiasm.

Our 26th President was the brightest candle and biggest mirror of the 20th century. There will never be another “Teddy,” A man of destiny, “Bully.”

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