By Tino Mantella
TLG President & CEO
Not every great leader has faced personal adversity and, of course, not everyone who has faced their own trials and tribulations becomes an exceptional leader.
All things being equal I have always given additional consideration, when I think about greatness, to those that have had to overcome significant obstacles We all know people, with unlimited potential, who have been weighted down by their impediments while others crash through everything that comes their way. Some say it’s not fair while others declare, “damn the torpedoes, I can do anything”. Let me pause here and say that I am one of the lucky ones. Any adversity I have faced is of my own doing. So, I haven’t “walked a mile in the shoes” of the less fortunate, or more fortunate, depending on their perspective.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is my selection as one of the greatest leaders in history. FDR, our 32nd President, pulled America out of the Great Depression and led the country into and out of WW2.
In 1921, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio. Prior to that time, he was vibrant, athletic, and poised to achieve political prominence. At age 39 he found himself at a crossroads. Most, including his mother, thought he should retire from public life. In January 1922, FDR was fit with braces that extended the length of his legs. Through sheer will, he was able to stand and walk. FDR made a plan that one day he would walk the length of his driveway, which was a quarter-mile long. Although he never accomplished that task, he used it as a training procedure. As most Georgians know, Roosevelt spent many years rehabbing in Warm Springs Georgia. He made excellent progress by exercising and swimming in the mineral springs and also bought and created a resort that helped thousands of others.
Here is a man that didn’t let his disability deter him. He was the longest serving President in US history. I am sure that every day, while in office, he faced a level of physical struggle. Most facilities, as we all know, were not wheelchair accessible during that period, but FDR found a way to traverse every challenge.
Despite the worst depression in history of our country, the “Big War”, decisions around developing the atom bomb, and all the other challenges faced by our 32nd President FDR was an optimist. Cheerful FDR gave hope to Americans. Perhaps because of his disability or in spite of it, he became one of the greatest of all the US Presidents and a special leader.
Let’s all continue to embrace people with disabilities. It’s not enough to accept them. When the opportunity arises, we can support them and encourage them to be all they can be.