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Learning about Leadership from FDR & Eleanor

By August 3, 2017No Comments

We just returned from a trip that included FDR’s Presidential Library and home, as well as Eleanor’s home Val-Kil. Their leadership inspired me.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and, like all who lived in that era, had their opinions about the way Roosevelt approached the great needs of our nation. His fans showered him with appreciation for helping them eat and find work, while his critics hounded everything he and Eleanor did. No one, however, disputes his great leadership ability, and as a student of leadership, I have become a huge fan of that aspect of our longest serving President and his wife.

So what can we learn from them as we try to influence and lead others?

Don’t let failure distract from worthy purposes. 

Obviously a time of great crisis demands someone willing to take risks to fix the problems. FDR’s risky actions brought both failures and successes, but the failures didn’t stop him. He persevered and changed his tactics. He led from his values and a true love for the American people. Reading letters from ordinary people who thanked him for helping their families was inspiring.

As Christians we have an even greater goal—to make disciples through our words and shine as lights of Christ through our actions. We will have failures as people and as the church, but our purpose is too important to abandon out of shame, depression, or frustration. As Roosevelt was guided by his principles and love, so we must be guided by God’s Word and love for him to do what enhances his message, not our comfort. At times we will fail, but we must stay the course while being open to change. (Being disagreeable or abandoning our values when we fail is never acceptable.)

More than once I have been tempted to give it all up when I failed personally or in ministry. Thankfully I have been in good community with other believers who picked me up and encouraged me to try again.

Clearly communicate vision. 

FDR’s library highlights his fireside radio chats. Of course, I had heard of them, but they were just a footnote of history. Now I realize how strategic they were in clarifying the issues and giving the American people great hope through a vision of an achievable future. He pictured a united country where everyone faced the crisis together to fix it.

Leaders in any arena—church, community, job, or family— must communicate vision. (See our videos on vision–in ministry and ordinary relationships.) As followers of Christ, we should work hard to paint a clear picture of the future God wants for individuals, ministries, and churches. Vision must be communicated clearly and often. We must see that we are all part of something greater and in it together.

For me a clear vision requires hard work. It’s so much easier to write a quick message, but vision takes time to clarify.

Lead don’t whine.

The Roosevelts took the high road when criticized—and they were criticized for everything. Instead of focusing on the negative, they kept their eyes on the goal ahead and led with smiles, grace, and positive spirits. Criticism and attacks did not distract them from their purposes.

If we want to achieve God’s purposes for our lives, we can’t be focused on others, whether pleasing them or responding negatively to their attacks. God is powerful and he will work through us when we trust him and follow his way of doing things–with prayer, love, and integrity. There is no need to blame or criticize those who attack or try to divide us. Responding in kind diminishes our witness to the world.

With God’s grace I do my best to carefully and prayerfully listen to find value in differing opinions and treat any opposition as Jesus would. It can be so hard to trust God rather than speak, but it’s so worth it.

I am grateful for the example of great leadership my trip afforded me. What examples have you seen?


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