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March 4, 2011 8:05 AM CST

Learning From FDR and G.W. on Dealing with Devastation

Lessons from famous leaders


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addresses Congress, December 8, 1941.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addresses Congress, December 8, 1941.
Depending upon how you account for the time, we are at least two or three years into this “Great Recession” which has been plaguing our country, communities, industry, businesses and families. For most of us, we wonder when it will all end. And yet, compared to other horrible events in history, you might need to remember that people have faced far worse and not only survived, but thrived, because they hung in there. You only lose when you give up.

There have been two “sneak” attacks on our country, but how the country’s leaders dealt with these tragedies might show us how we should deal with the economic mess we face now. Project and business management are more about effective leadership than anything else, so let’s see what we construction types can learn from a couple of presidents.

First, let’s fill in the details of these events. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “FDR,” addressed Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, beginning this way:
“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.”
President George W. Bush, “W,” on Sept. 20, 2001, addressed both houses of Congress, concluding this way:
“I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice – assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.”
A huge lesson to be learned from these dark and difficult times in American history – times even darker and more difficult than we face today. It’s the lesson I want you to take from these two men, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, but both Americans, who delivered speeches 60 years apart.

Keep in mind that both presidents were welcomed before Congress with thunderous ovations, shouts and loud cheers. Why these reactions in a time of national mourning? We are Americans, and we don’t give up when things get bad or tragic. Whether we have someone sneak up on us while we are at peace, or we might see something coming our way, we deal with it. We dealt with it then, and we will most assuredly deal with it now.

By definition, a president has to be a leader. But, so does a project manager or the owner of a contracting business. The alternative to leadership is chaos. But, if your business is potentially subject to chaos, then so, too, are the businesses of your competitors. What this all means is that if you figure out a way to hang in there, outwit and outlast your competitors (a la “Survivor”), you can come out of this recession in much better shape than you entered. Plus, you may become one of the few remaining contractors in your town.

These are times to try different ways, explore different markets and approaches, and yet rely on your primary trade. You can and should seriously consider doing joint ventures with other contractors or developers, more specialized market niches, or even begin pursuing public works projects. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid to look. If you need help, find a coach or a mentor who’s been there before.
And, there’s some free help for you, if you want to explore public works. One of the requirements with public agencies is that you often need to supply a construction schedule to the client. Many smaller contractors shy away from this. Visit, and click on the link that says “Webinars I & II,” you’ll get almost an hour of free content explaining how scheduling works for public agencies. And, I’ve even made available to you the use of the scheduling software for free. The point is that this market is something you can investigate and master.

Remember, FDR and W never gave up. They rallied their troops, their people, and even their economies of the time. You should do no less for your company. Goal No. 1 must be that you will succeed, you will survive and you will not give up. After all, this is America.

Remember what Coach Gary always reminds you: “Get coaching. Get a plan and a goal. Get started. Get precise. Get in motion, now.”

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at


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