Franklin D. Roosevelt: Creative Leadership in a Lifetime of Public Service

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Franklin D. Roosevelt: Creative Leadership in a Lifetime of Public Service

Leading the United States of America through an economic crisis and a world war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt demonstrated the traits of a creative leader not only in his policy-making, but also in the way he carried his image. From State Senator of New York to 32nd President of the United States, Roosevelt epitomised resourcefulness in his steady ascent of the political ladder, culminating with taking charge of the country during one of the toughest times it had ever experienced. Over the course of his leadership, Roosevelt certainly gained – if not already possessed – the domain knowledge required to generate creativity in his field of politics. In fact, he was primed for a career in public service even since his early education Roosevelt first entered the face of American politics in the State Election of 1910, running for the New York State Senate. In his second term, he served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, passing effective farm and labour bills. This success was to some extent a precursor of his New Deal policies (to be discussed in greater detail later), which despite imperfections were reflective of creative leadership in the aspect of Dr Ronald Heifetz’s “adaptive work”. Following this, in 1913, Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy – a role from which he gained experience that would prove relevant in his later years as Commander-in-Chief during World War II. Although traditionally the prerogative of the Secretary rather than the Assistant Secretary, he worked on the general development of U.S. naval policy, and his advocacy for a “big navy” earned him support from Navy personnel. As State Senator, Roosevelt openly opposed the Tammany Hall political machine; as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he opposed Frederick Taylor’s “stopwatch” system towards industrial efficiency. In both positions, his stand inevitably favoured certain stakeholders and incensed others. Although this meant losing support from some people, it represented creating the “disequilibrium” that Heifetz describes as necessary for mobilising adaptive work. Roosevelt was hence able to effectively “orchestrate conflict and create disorder” in order to achieve greater overall progress. Roosevelt was a leader who avoided letting his personal life affect his political career. In the summer of 1921, he contracted poliomyelitis, which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. However, Roosevelt was adamant about preserving his image of health to the people, which he believed was necessary to run for public office again. He made sure that the press presented him in a manner which did not highlight his disability, and refrained from being seen in his wheelchair in public. In doing this, he protected his status as a leader in the eyes of the people, rather than allowing his illness to undermine his ability to serve in public office. Roosevelt went further to establish the March of Dimes, a non-profit organisation seeking to combat polio. He was hence able to turn an adversity on its head and generate even greater public support from it instead. In the 1920s, Roosevelt mended fences with the Democratic Party, and moderated his stance against the Tammany Hall machine. He went on to be elected as Governor of New York in 1928, and re-elected for a second term in 1930. While in that position, he instated several social programmes such as the New York State Emergency Relief Commission. In line with the importance of working with partners that Heifetz emphasises in his book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Roosevelt worked closely with Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins, particularly in the aspect of solving America’s economic problems during the period. Roosevelt also made the key statement that "progressive government by its very terms, must be a living and growing thing”, presenting governance as a conceptual space that could be explored and...
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