Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Legacy of Leadership

FDR Everyone knows him just by his initials as the president who led the nation out of the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. Few leaders in world history have faced such huge challenges and overcome them, both personally and in the need to bring about massive social changes. He remains one of the greatest role models for inspirational leadership in any organization. Born into a wealthy real estate family, FDR was taught by his father to sail at age six, and he eventually collected 200 model ships and 10,000 books on naval history. Gregarious, but considered superficial, he was only a mediocre student at Harvard and dropped out of Columbia Law School in 1907. By then, he had married his distant cousin, Eleanor, whose early life was rough, making her tough and compassionate. In 1911, FDR was elected as a New York state assemblyman and two years later he was named assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. With a boss who was often absent and not much of a leader, FDR often acted beyond his authority as World War I got underway, sending relief supplies before the U.S. officially entered on the side of the Allies in 1917. FDR was ambitious, but his plans were crippled by polio,which he contracted in 1921, paralyzing his legs for the rest of his life. Everyone expected him to give up on an active life, but he began the first of dozens of visits to a resort in Warm

Springs, Georgia, to strengthen his muscles by swimming. Gradually, he learned to walk a short way with leg braces and a cane, through force of will, despite great pain. He refused to be photographed in a wheelchair and gave the impression he was gradually recovering from the effects of polio. Lesson: It doesn’t matter how often you are knocked down if you get up again and move forward. The Paralyzed President Raises the Nation’s Morale In 1928, Roosevelt won the first of his two-year terms as governor of New York before becoming president in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression. “The conventional wisdom is that FDR became president in spite of polio,” wrote James Tobin in The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency . “The evidence suggests he became president because of polio. He had been hampered by his image as an aristocrat born to wealth and power. But polio made him more compassionate and better acquainted with the realities of life for people from a much broader range of society than he had previously known. He came back from his illness and exhibited the habits of mind and action that he would deploy as a leader: perseverance in the face of enormous trouble, improvisation, and experimentation.”

36 I Nonprofit Performance Magazine

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