Leadership, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sleeping: What do they have in common? by Tamala S. Bradham, Ph.D.

In quality improvement, leadership and team building are essential attributes necessary to move projects forward.  To be an effective leader and team member, one must look inward before he or she can lead others.  Maxwell (2010) stresses that by knowing yourself helps you gain mental and emotional clarity.  As a leader, it is important to know four key components about yourself: mission, personal values, strengths, and weaknesses.  Your mission states your overall purpose, goals, and objectives.  Your personal values form the foundation in the way you live your life.  They define who we are and what we want to be.  They are often considered nonnegotiable.  Identifying your strengths and weaknesses raises self-awareness and imparts an understanding how to proceed.  Knowing your own four key components can serve as a compass and guide your decisions, priorities, and actions.

John Maxwell must have taken some notes from Eleanor Roosevelt.  Last fall, while reading some books on Eleanor Roosevelt, I learned several leadership lessons that are still valid today.  Here are five key leadership lessons that I learned from my readings highlighted below:

1)  Write an autobiography.  Eleanor advised that it is important to get to know yourself.  She suggested writing down your memories and the impact that they had on your leadership abilities.  By finding positive lessons from your life experiences, it will help develop you as a leader.

2)  Be true to the mission.  Your leadership must follow your own vision and values as well as your organization.  If they do not match, then find another employer.

3)  Find a mentor, be a mentor.  Find someone you respect and get to know her (or him).  This person may be someone who works in your organization or someone from another company.  The mentor can be short term or long term, formal or informal.  The key is to be open to what they have to say.  In return, it is important to be a mentor for future leaders.

4)  Communication. One cannot over communicate or stop trying to connect with people.  Eleanor used a variety of means of communication.  Through active listening, visiting people in their communities, public speaking, writing her newspaper column, and broadcasting on the radio, she connected with people where ever she went.

5) Stay true to yourself.  Eleanor’s message was “develop a skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide” meaning that it was important for a woman to protect herself and not be vulnerable.  Know your passion and beliefs (Gerber, 2002).

It took some time to write my personal mission, cover values, strengths and weaknesses but I highly recommend that everyone does this.  As I reflect on my personal values and mission, I am reminded of a parable that I ripped from a church bulletin that I have at my bedside table.  I have yet to find the “true” author as I have searched but it highlights what I think is important as a leader and team member.

 “Sleeping While the Wind Blows” – author unknown

          “There is a story I love about a young man who applied for a job as a farmhand.  When the farmer asked for his qualifications, he said, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”

          This response puzzled the farmer.  But he liked the young man, and hired him.  A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm.  They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure.  They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been securely fastened.  A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace.  The young man slept soundly.

          The farmer and his wife inspected the property.  They found that the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements.  The tractor had been moved into the garage.  The barn was properly locked.  Even the animals were calm.  All was well.  The farmer then understood the meaning of the young man’s words, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”  Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm when it broke.  So when the wind blew, he was not afraid.  He could sleep in peace.”

If we do our job well, know what to look for, standardize our processes, we will be ready when times are tough.  We can be calm even when chaos surrounds us.  These lessons are invaluable to people who dedicate their professional lives to quality improvement.



Gerber, R.  (2002).  Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt way: Timeless strategies from the first lady of courage.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

Maxwell, J.C. (2010).  Everyone communicates few connect: What the most effective people do differently.  Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson.

Portions of this blog came from class assignments in Lorence Leaming’s Foundations in Leadership course at the Medical University of South Carolina, College of Health Professions, Department of Healthcare Leadership and Management.