Russell Razzaque M.D.

Political Intelligence

FDR Was the Connecter-In-Chief

FDR’s formula for success was a 2nd rate IQ, and a 1st rate EQ

Posted Apr 03, 2012



Roosevelt took the helm of a bereft nation when he was inaugurated on Saturday 4th March 1933, with an economy sliding inexorably into the Great Depression. Within a week, he delivered his first fireside chat, which was later described by historian, David Kennedy, as "cultivated yet familiar, commanding yet avuncular, masterful yet intimate."  An unprecedented response followed with nearly half a million letters pouring into the White House that week. The mailbags were full of notes from Americans expressing appreciation for the president's reassurance. After that week, the White House mailroom had to increase its personnel from one full time staffer - as had been the case under Hoover - to seventy. He had truly donned the mantle of Connecter-In-Chief.

FDR's capacity to connect in this way didn't come about by accident, though. His struggle with polio had a profound effect on his emotional make up and the way he saw and interacted with the people he came across. He had always taken great pleasure in other people but now, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes, "He seemed less arrogant, less smug, less superficial... Far more intensely than before, he reached out to know them, to understand them, to pick up their emotions, to put himself into their shoes. No longer belonging to his old world in the same way, he came to empathize with the poor and the underprivileged, with people to whom fate had dealt a difficult hand."

A consequence of this deep emotional empathy was a strong drive to channel the pain he connected with into action. And because he wanted results, it was never the policy he was wedded to, it was always the outcome. That's why flexibility was his other key gift. When faced with a problem, he was willing to try out various solutions until the right one clicked. This is a key asset of emotionally intelligent leaders; their relative comfort with failure. Failure is merely seen as another step on the road to success. In the high stakes business of politics, this is can be a risky strategy, but FDR was not afraid to deploy it. Eleanor Roosevelt said of her husband, "He recognized the difficulties and often said that, while he did not know the answer, he was completely confident that there was an answer and that one had to try until one either found it for himself or got it from someone else."

And Roosevelt himself liked to say, "I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average." He was driven more by a desire to succeed than a fear of failure, which is why he was perfectly comfortable with launching a multitude of broad based initiatives to combat the unparalleled economic depression he faced on entering office. And in so doing, he challenged the country to raise its game, work together and face its fears too. As Garry Wills noted, "He understood the importance of psychology - the people have to have the courage to keep seeking a cure, no matter what the cure is. Those who wanted ideological consistency or even policy coherence, were rightly exasperated with Roosevelt. He switched economic plans as often as he changed treatments for polio."

A hallmark of emotional intelligence is an ability to connect with others, and from this flows a determination to find solutions, and a courage to keep experimenting—regardless of capacity or intellect—until problems are solved. FDR was said to possess "a second-rate intellect but a first-rate temperament.” When he died, the public’s grief was so heartfelt that a journalist once came across a member of the public crying so profusely that he had to stop. Such was the extent of this man’s grief that the journalist asked him if he actually knew Roosevelt personally. “No,” said the man, “but he knew me.”

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