The Progressive Presidents
Theodore Roosevelt is universally recognized as a consequential and indeed transformational leader. TR defined numerous aspects of leadership that we now take for granted in the presidency as well as in private life. His inspirational vision (including environmental protection, which may be more widely comprehended in our time than his own) was certainly one element. Another was his remarkable ability to communicate his vision, not only through his well-crafted words, but even more through his indelible example. TR’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. Mounted conspicuously on horseback, in front of and above the troops in his command, Roosevelt 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 ever ask of others.
Roosevelt was also a skilled, subtle manager. Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus make a useful distinction between the leader and the manager:
By focusing attention on a vision, the leader operates on the emotional and spiritual resources of the organization, on its values, commitment, and aspirations. The manager, by contrast, operates on the physical resourcesof the organization, on its capital, human skills, raw materials, and technology. Any competent manager can make it possible for people in the organization to earn a living. An excellent manager can see to it that work is done productively and efficiently, on schedule, and with a high level of quality. It remains for the effective leader, however, to help people in the organization know pride and satisfaction in their work. Great leaders often inspire their followers to high levels of achievement by showing them how their work contributes to worthwhile ends.
In practice both leadership and management skills are necessary to achieve organizational success. Though an individual may display both sets of skills, in many cases the different emphases required and traits utilized point toward different individuals and personality types. A leader may be conspicuous for his or her ability to present abstractions or possibilities in a compelling manner, often utilizing (to the consternation of those relying solely on analytical or quantitative approaches) artful ambiguity to engage and enlarge the scope of others’ interest and participation. A manager generally adds value by translating the vision into relatively concrete, measurable terms that enable an enterprise to quantify and better organize the work of its members.
The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt is well known for his conservation accomplishments and his work to regulate corporate monopolies, which earned him the nickname “trust buster.”
Before rising to the presidency after the 1901 assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt had a broad range of experience, including time as New York state assemblyman, a deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory, police commissioner of New York City, U.S. Civil Service commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, colonel of the Rough Riders, governor of New York, and vice president.
Roosevelt’s love of nature was bolstered by hunting trips and time spent ranching in the Dakotas before his presidency.
Among Roosevelt’s key accomplishments as a conservationist are the establishment of federal protection for almost 230 million acres of land, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks, and 18 national monuments,
One of his first notable domestic moves was the National Reclamation Act of 1902, which established irrigation projects in the west.
The United States Forestry Service was created under Roosevelt’s administration in 1905, with Gifford Pinchot appointed as its first chief.
As President, he pushed executive powers to new limits, arguing that the rise of industrial capitalism had rendered limited government obsolete.
- He took on the captains of industry and argued for greater government control over the economy, pursuing a two-pronged strategy of antitrust prosecutions and regulatory control.
- He pushed through legislation that gave the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) new powers to set railroad rates, laying the foundation for the modern administrative state.
- Casting himself as steward of the nation’s natural resources, he presided over the birth of the conservation movement.
- Convinced that a strong defense was the best guarantee of peace, he built up the Navy and sent it around the world.
Although he was denied the Medal of Honor for the Battle of San Juan Heights, Roosevelt posthumously received the honor—the highest award for military service in the United States—more than 100 years later, on January 16, 2001, Roosevelt was the first president to receive the Medal of Honor, conferred by President Bill Clinton.
Teddy Roosevelt's energetic vision helped bring the nation into the new century. America owes nearly 200 million acres of national forest and parkland to his foresight—some of which can be viewed atop Mount Rushmore, where Roosevelt's visage is carved in memorial.