Lessons in leadership from Mr. Rogers

  • Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020

Many of Americans grew up watching “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,” which first aired in February 1968 and ran for almost 900 episodes, until 2001. Reruns continue to be aired. That adds up to over 50 years of exposure to the gentle wisdom of Fred Rogers.

On the show, the little red trolley took viewers in and out of a neighborhood of make-believe where respect for all and kindness were demonstrated. People helped one another, were aware of one another’s struggles and challenges, and grew to be better together.

"The show set the bar for how neighbors should treat one another, and taught us that asking for help and helping one another is just the normal and right thing to do," said Dr. Pam Duitsman, a community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension. 

The real world of work and family and community can be stressful. Some days, adults may want to escape to a world of make-believe on a shiny red trolley to a fantasy “beautiful day in the neighborhood.”

"But, how much better to take the lessons learned from this extraordinary man and make every day in our own neighborhood as beautiful? Mr. Rogers conveyed so many valuable lessons," said Duitsman. "In fact, several of his lessons stand out as qualities essential to good leadership."

Respect.  To Mr. Rogers, everyone deserved his attention and respect. Even more, creating an environment where respect for others is the norm, and everyone is supported to do their best. What that means is that people feel safe, and their abilities, qualities, and achievements are recognized.

"If we are to be good leaders, treating everyone with respect is fundamental. After all, a healthy neighborhood has people with all sorts of gifts and abilities working together; teaching one another and learning from one another at the same time." said Duitsman.

Fred Rogers said it this way: “Every person in the whole world is different than everybody else, yet we can still love each other. Because the most important things about us are inside of us.  It’s what’s inside of us that matters most.”

Be teachable. Mr. Rogers taught that no one is perfect. No matter how young or old we are, let us continue to encourage each other to stay open to learning and growing together.

"It is okay to try something and not be great at it. None of us can learn without making mistakes," said Duitsman.

Work hard and have fun.  Mr. Rogers encouraged his viewers to work hard at something they would like to do.  Because in doing so, they would be proud of themselves and have fun.

Responsibility. "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes," said Fred Rogers.

Be genuine. Be the best person you can be. Mr. Rogers inspired us all to be better people, but also reminded us that "there’s only one person in this whole world like you." Be the best version of who you were created to be. That will be exactly what is needed.

"We all have unique gifts and abilities to offer. It doesn’t work to try to be someone else," said Duitsman.

Live in community, and help others. Fred Rogers often said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' "  He believed in, and modeled, servant leadership.

"The advice of Mr. Rogers seems so simple and ordinary. Yet, the hope is that we will live in a neighborhood that is extraordinary in the ordinary things of respect, teachability and responsibility. Let us build a community together that supports one another to work and play and grow into the best of what we can be," said Duitsman.

Community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development Program works collaboratively with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making, community emergency preparedness and inclusive communities.

For more information, contact any of these MU Extension community development specialists working in southwest Missouri:  Pam Duitsman in Christian County, (417) 581-3558; David Burton in Greene County, (417) 881-8909 or Maria E. Rodriguez-Alcalá in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158
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Writer: Pamela Duitsman

Media Contact

Pamela Duitsman
417-581-3558

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