If you were a child (or the parent of a child) between 1968 and 2001, chances are you have seen at least one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers, the iconic soft-spoken star of the show, won the affections of millions of viewers over the course of the show’s thirty plus year run, gently and expertly tackling the day’s issues and providing comfort to kids facing their fears.
While Fred Rogers died in 2003 at the age of seventy-three after battling stomach cancer, his memory lives on in the hearts of those who appreciate his contributions to children—and society.
In 2018, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood celebrated its fifty-year anniversary. In honor of the occasion, Rogers’ face was added by the U.S. Postal Service on a Forever stamp, a documentary titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released, and a biopic starring Tom Hanks was announced and is set to open on Thursday, November 21, 2019 of this year.
The upcoming biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, follows a real-life friendship formed between journalist Tom Junod and Rogers after Junod begrudgingly came to interview him for a profile piece on heroes in 1998. In seeing the documentary, reading accounts of the encounters people had with Rogers, and reading quotes from Mister Rogers himself, it’s clear that he exhibited classic leadership qualities that made him the trusted and beloved man that he was. Today we are going to take a look at just a few of leadership traits that he exhibited.
Mister Rogers – Timeless Leadership Qualities
Unassuming and humble, Mister Rogers exhibited a number of leadership qualities that served him well and can help us become more effective leaders. Here are just a few of them:
Honest and Open Communicator
Fred Rogers freely and honestly discussed problems that his followers (in this case, children ages two to six) were facing in their lives. In fact, he even devoted an entire episode to the topic of assassination. This was especially poignant considering the country was dealing with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy during that time. He could have easily tried to provide a distraction from what families were watching on the news at night, but he clearly felt communicating with those who watched him would be more beneficial.
“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life that ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is firm.”
Respectful to All
By all accounts on and off the set, Fred Rogers was said to have treated everyone he encountered with respect, whether they were a small child or an industry leader. He took time to stop and listen to those that spoke with him and spent much of his free time responding personally to fan mail (every single letter) and praying for others. To him, everyone was worthy of his respect. This quote shows how he felt about others:
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has- or ever will have- something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
As mentioned above, Mister Rogers gave of his time for the benefit of others. He felt that we all have important roles to play in the lives of others and was fully committed to helping people grow into the best versions of themselves.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said “yes,” when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”
Many of those who came in contact with Mr. Rogers mentioned that he was a great listener. Larry Humes, a public relations executive and friend of Fred’s, said the following: “A person who impressed me with his listening skills was Fred Rogers, the star for more than 30 years of the extraordinary television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. When you were in his presence, he was totally focused on you. It is uncanny how much he focused on what you were saying and how he gave you feedback.”
“More and more I’ve come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another. Whether the other be an adult or a child, our engagement in listening to who that person is can often be our greatest gift.” ~Fred Rogers
Mister Rogers had a passion for helping others. It was his personal mission. He used this passion along with a variety of methods, including storytelling, songs, and more to inspire and move people young and old. This not only made his show a success, but also helped him during a battle over public funding for PBS. Check out the video below to see him in action—and the response he got from Senator Pastore.
“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Mister Rogers had a clear mission—to help children navigate the world around them and develop into the best people they could be. This was evident in his show, for which he did the puppetry, wrote all the songs, and created the narrative. In a time where fast-paced (and increasingly violent) cartoons were commanding the attention of children across the country, Mister Rogers found success by focusing on his purpose and delivering it in a calm, comforting way. He didn’t spend time on gimmicks and theatrics to get more viewers. Instead, he stuck to his message, and it added value for millions.
“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Mister Rogers’ example of effective personal leadership left a positive, lasting impact that continues to be felt today.
Do you want to make a positive difference in the lives of others? Would you like to make your mark as a great leader? Leadership Excellence offers personal leadership development training to help individuals reach their highest potential. Contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve your full potential.