While paying attention to the most recent political issues the country will soon be facing, it made me think of presidents we have had in the past. One president that sticks out in my mind is Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). FDR was able to successfully lead a nation through some of the tensest and unstable circumstances encountered in years. Much like Gandhi, Lincoln, and Obama, FDR was truly a “great man” (Northouse, 2016), possessing most of the ascribed traits associated with great leaders. There is no question as to the impact FDR had on the nation during his presidency. His repeated re-election demonstrates his success as a leader and the nation’s willingness to stand behind him.
Using the trait theory to describe his ability to be an effective leader, one can see what made him a great man. The trait theory focuses on a few main points; intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability (Northouse, 2016). Let’s take a closer look at two of these traits of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
• Intelligence was apparent. FDR was a well-educated man from his youth, he attended Groton School in 1904, Columbia Law School from 1904-1907, Harvard College, Harvard University, and Columbia University. All through his educational career, he received good grades and realized that he excelled in law and politics. He was a quick study and had the patience to read books from cover to cover and talk to great lengths about any topic. He was able to learn a lot of information through conversations and that was his preferred method of learning. (The Hauenstein Center, 2005)
• Self-confidence was another area in which he excelled. His level of self-confidence was astounding; he had the ability to disagree with advisers when they could not come up with an effective solution to issues that they faced. His degree of self-confidence in fact was so high that the presidency conformed to his vision of who he was as the leader of this country. There was nothing that he could not handle with a calm and clarity that was unique to him. When he was diagnosed with Polio at age 39, he didn’t want the public to see him any differently because he was bound to a wheelchair. He worked his best to maintain the appearance that he held himself to (Berish, 2014)
FDR was known for many traits such as great charisma, a strong character, and a clear vision of America which were enhanced by his intelligence and self-confidence. With his dominant traits, FDR brought the country through tough times including the Great Depression and WWII, without the strong set of traits that he possessed, the public would have been looking elsewhere for encouragement and leadership, but with FDR in office, there was a strong man with high values and immense strength to lead them through these times of hardship.
The trait perspective suggests that certain individuals have special innate or inborn characteristics or qualities that make them leaders, and it is these qualities that differentiate them from non-leaders (Northouse, 2016). FDR certainly displayed many leadership qualities. In addition to those mentioned above, FDR also displayed determination. Determination could have been even further displayed deeper prior to his death.
He also used the characteristic of determination while making decisions throughout his life both personally and professionally. According to Northouse (2016), “determination is the desire to get the job done and includes characteristics such as initiatives, persistent, dominance, and drive”. People with determination show dominance at times and in situations where followers need to be directed. FDR displayed his determination in the summer of 1921, when he was 39, disaster hit-he was stricken with poliomyelitis. Demonstrating indomitable courage, he fought to regain the use of his legs, particularly through swimming (Fridel & Sidney, 2006). This characteristic of determination not only helped him in his life personally, but professionally many people took his determination to get better and used it to help themselves.
Perhaps some of our future leaders should take lessons from past presidents. Or, the citizens of the United States should be aware of past Presidents and what made them great leaders and look for those traits in the future Presidents of the United States.
Berish, A. (2014). “FDR and Polio” Presidential Library and Museum National Archives. Retrieved from http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/aboutfdr/polio.html
Freidel, F. & Sidney, H. (2006). “The Presidents of the United States of America”. White House
Northouse, Peter G. (2016) Leadership, Theory and Practice, 7th ed. Los Angeles.Sage
The Hauenstein Center. (2005, March 21). Franklin Roosevelt as a Leader. Retrieved from