All of us need role models, especially those of us who run our own businesses. When I first became a manager, I searched for people to emulate when developing my leadership style. I didnít have much luck; after all, it was an era when using the term "chainsaw" to describe a chief executive was considered a compliment.

However, this year I discovered a leadership role model I truly admire -- a person who exemplifies the values Iíd hope to bring to my work and life.

That role model is Eleanor Roosevelt. Yes, I know she died forty years ago, but an excellent two-volume biography, Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Penguin Books, $16.95 each) made her come alive. In the first volume Cook recounts Eleanor's younger years, and it reads like a riveting novel. Another recent book about Eleanor, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, by Robin Gerber (Portfolio, $14.95) applies lessons from her life directly to business.

Since Eleanor's birthday falls in October (born October 11, 1884) it seems an appropriate time to celebrate some of Eleanor's traits and philosophies I find inspirational for entrepreneurs.

While Eleanor came from a wealthy, prominent family (her uncle was President Theodore Roosevelt), her childhood was dismal. Orphaned before she was 10, her mother ridiculed her and her father was an alcoholic. Her early years of marriage to her distant-cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were suffocating and humiliating.

Yet, what I found so inspirational about Eleanor was that she somehow found within herself the strength to overcome whatever obstacles life put in her way. She forged her own path.

During her years as First Lady, 1933-1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was the country's strongest champion of civil rights, women's rights, and compassion for America's depression-era poor. Eleanor fought for anti-lynching laws when the Democratic party, including FDR, didn't want to alienate Southern Democrats on whom the party depended. She truly became the conscience of our society. After FDR died, she chaired the United Nations committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No other First Lady -- before or since -- made such a positive impact on America and the world.

Eleanor accomplished all that not because it made her popular -- quite the contrary. She didn't follow opinion polls or focus groups. Eleanor Roosevelt learned that to be a success in life you had to have a set of values that guides your actions. Over the years Iíve learned that same lesson applies to business -- to be a long-term success you have to be driven by values, not just by profit.

I also admire Eleanor because she was a prolific writer, writing a daily newspaper column while First Lady and authoring a number of books. We have many leadership lessons for entrepreneurs in Eleanor's own words:

  • "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
  • "A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping stone to the optimist."
  • "The things you refuse to meet today always come back at you later on, usually under circumstances which make the decision twice as difficult as it originally was."
  • "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
  • "Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
  • "Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try...Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, 'It can't be done."
  • "It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself."
  • "A woman is like a teabag, only in hot water do you realize how strong she is."
  • "In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves...the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."
  • "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
  • "Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively."

Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2003

Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and tools for business planning. Register for her free business planning newsletter at