Byron's Babbles

Leading Like Theodore Roosevelt

Yesterday day I had the opportunity of a lifetime while visiting the offices of our Vice President, Mike Pence. Our Vice President has offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), which is located next to the West Wing of the White House. In addition the Vice President has an office in the West Wing, on the Senate side of the Capitol Building, and Vice President Pence has one on the House Of Representatives side in honor of his service in Congress.

When we were taken into the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building I was struck by an extra large desk at one end. Then we were told it was Theodore Roosevelt’s desk when he was Secretary Of The Navy and President Of The United States. The desk was no longer extra large, it was larger than life! I was standing next to the desk of one of my heroes, Teddy Roosevelt! You know, one of the guys on Mount Rushmore!

Of course, and this will be no surprise, I asked “Can I please sit at the desk?” The answer was, “Yes.” So, now I am sitting at the desk of Teddy Roosevelt and the many Vice Presidents who have signed the inside of the top drawer (see picture). Again, I am sitting at the desk of President Teddy Roosevelt! Then I look in the drawer and see the signature of Vice President Joe Biden, who also used this desk, and a leader who I greatly respect and had the opportunity to spend time with. What an experience! Thank you Vice President Pence for the opportunity!

This experience was yesterday and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I have been reflecting on why Theodore Roosevelt is such a hero. Theodore Roosevelt is recognized as a transformational leader. He defined numerous aspects of leadership that we now take for granted in the presidency as well as in private life. His inspirational vision about the economy, industry, environmental protection, and the National Parks system is still influencing our great country to this day. He had a remarkable ability to communicate his vision, not only through his well-crafted words, but even more through his indelible example. Roosevelt’s well-publicized, courageous exploits in Cuba in the brief but deadly Spanish-American War of 1898—the fateful days he viewed as the linchpin of his life—are perhaps the most apt symbol of his leadership. Roosevelt, mounted on horseback in front of his troops, showed the way—asking others to “come” rather than saying “go” in the words of his friend Henry Cabot Lodge—putting himself at risk, making himself accountable, giving more of himself than he would ask of others. I have always said that we must walk arm in arm with others, even pulling them along at times, instead of pushing!

“Reading is a disease with me.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was very curious and was continually learning. He was a voracious reader, but the book, the classroom, formal education, were far from the only venues for learning in his opinion. These forms of learning had produced many of what he called the “educated ineffectives.” Roosevelt believed in combining the life of ideas and the life of action. This was central to his project of self-creation as a leader. He was practicing project based, interdisciplinary learning.

As soon as any man has ceased to be able to learn, his usefulness as a teacher is at an end. When he himself can’t learn, he has reached the stage where other people can’t learn from him. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Interesting this had been brought up in the great session at the ExcelinEd National Summit on Education Reform by Andreas Schleicher with what he described as “some things are caught not taught.” This is what work based learning and project based learning is all about. We must be immersed in a relevant learning environment.

Theodore Roosevelt believed that learning is an ongoing project of self-creation – personal professional growth. He offered his life as a template for anyone who would seek to re-create themselves.

It’s amazing what effect sitting at a desk can have. Who’s desk would you like to be sitting at?

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