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Leadership & Communication

What made Franklin D Roosevelt a great leader?

29 Aug 2013, by Informa Insights

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933.

Academics and historians consider Franklin D Roosevelt as one of the greatest US presidents, ranking him alongside the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

In fact, the United States Presidency Center voted him the best American president overall in 2011.

Roosevelt, commonly known as FDR, had the leadership skills to guide the US through the Great Depression of the 1930s and most of World War II.

He’s also the only president to serve more than two consecutive terms in office – managing to secure a fourth term before he died in 1945.

But what was it about his leadership style that made him such an effective president?


FDR’s leadership skills

Stanford University historian David Kennedy has identified a number of characteristics that he feels made FDR a strong president.



Kennedy claims that Roosevelt had a curious mind and was always keen to learn more. The president was an excellent communicator and learned much through conversations and interactions with the outside world.

This thirst for knowledge and ability to absorb information made him a quick study, which helped him become an authority on issues with speed and confidence.


Presentation skills

Early in his career, FDR was an imposing figure – standing 6-foot 2-inches tall – however he is probably best known for his ‘fireside chats’.

Radio was a new-fangled technology during his time in office, but the president used it to good effect and he became one of the best orators of the 20th century.

Before his tenure, the White House mailroom was staffed by one mailperson, but within a week of his first radio appearance 70 people were needed to cope with almost 500,000 letters of appreciation.



FDR was known to be extremely confident in his own opinions and decisions.

It was this characteristic that led him to ignore his closest advisors on major issues, including US involvement in World War II.

His confidants opposed the early support of the British in the war, but FDR threw his weight behind the Allied forces in what many people consider a defining moment that swung the balance of power away from the Axis nations.


Overcoming adversity

Not only was Roosevelt’s time in office marked by some of the most eventful years in American history, he also had to overcome significant personal adversity.

The president contracted polio in 1921 – 12 years before he was elected as president – which left him paralysed from the waist down.

Despite this, FDR refused to be seen in public in a wheelchair, instead using a combination of canes and mechanical braces to stand upright and even walk short distances.


… And a little bit of luck?

While FDR is considered one of the greatest US presidents, some historians claim that he was also fortunate enough to receive some good luck during his time in office.

Often in ranking systems, the best presidents are those that guide the country through troubled times, such as Washington during the first years of the unstable republic and Lincoln through the Civil War.

Many of the peacekeeping presidents tend to blend into the background, and so the onset of World War II actually helped FDR stake his claim as one of the greats.

Of course, without the right leadership skills during the conflict he would not have been able to handle these challenges so effectively!

These are just some of the characteristics and attributes shown by FDR while he was in office, and all of them can be equally as effective in the business world.


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– Article references with sources from 60+Club



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