Douglas Brinkley’s book, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, is outstanding.
In addition to its value as a unified catalog of TR’s accomplishments in the realm of what we now call sustainability, Wilderness Warrior includes some valuable leadership lessons:
—TR’s remarkable presidential record in this arena was the result, to a notable extent, of his own force of will. There was not a public clamor for his actions. Though he was supported in various ways by various groups and individuals, the opposition was generally more intense, better positioned.
Today, there is much focus on the use of a widely recognized crisis as a driver for leadership in all settings. TR accomplished immense change without such a crisis situation–and did so without misleading or inflaming the public, thereby rendering his achievements more durable.
—TR did not hesitate to expand the notions of the possible, including what was possible in the presidential office. Do you remember the presidents between Lincoln and TR? Not likely, not for much… the office was viewed as a near nullity. TR, understanding history, recognized that recent experience was far too limited a guide to his leadership and management options.
He also did not await the unlikely possibility of the presidency to take all kinds of action in support of his cause. Throughout his career, he made progress where he could. When he did become president, this constituted extraordinary preparation.
—TR was able to incorporate these issues into myriad of challenges coming to him in the presidency. A reader new to Roosevelt might well think this was the sole or primary focus of his presidency. It most assuredly was not. A leader must work from the circumstances before him or her. TR thought his legacy in the environment was important—but he was trusting to future generations to recognize it at least as much as his contemporaries. He anticipated the successful undertaking and completion of the Panama Canal project as likely to be his administration’s greatest historical achievement. Today at least, that’s not how it’s turned out.
—TR was a master networker, to use today’s terms. He brought all manner of people together, and was able to work effectively with many whom he disagreed with on various issues. His inner circle was extraordinary.
—TR was a talent scout nonpareil. Acolytes, such as the erratic and valuable Gifford Pinchot, were nurtured and developed.
—TR was able to constantly re-frame issues in service of his goals. Both sides of the modern environment-energy debate can find parts of his legacy to attach themselves to. As Ike used to say in other contexts, that “didn’t just happen.”
—TR was constantly focused on future generations. His depth as a historian—can anyone imagine any recent president of the United States also serving as the president of the American Historical Association?—afforded him a powerful future perspective to frame, comprehend, and act upon present circumstances.
All in all, quite a legacy. Thank you, TR—and thanks to Douglas Brinkley for recounting it in a way of which TR would surely be, as he was wont to say, dee-lighted!!
Douglas Brinkley | Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt