Leadership and Main

Bettering Others and the World You Live In

In The Arena

In the arena

Leadership takes place in the arena, not outside of it.  For the last several weeks, I have been tuning into a Jon Meacham Podcast called, It was said.  On the podcast, he analyzes notable speeches from some of history’s greatest leaders.

In The Arena

There was a particular speech that struck me.  It was President Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech.  He delivered the speech in Paris, France in April of 1910.  He shares his perspective regarding the difference between the person that is in the arena, those in the fight, and those who are outside of the arena, watching the fight.    

Here is a small excerpt from the speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So…how can this short passage influence our leadership?  Here are four ways:

You Can Count on Critics

Dale Carnegie once said, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn-and most fools do.”  You Can Count on Critics to do these three things, regularly!  Roosevelt is clear on who doesn’t count, “Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles.”

Here is your modern-day equivalent…watch a Saturday of college football with anyone else in the room.  You will observe grown adults with zero athletic ability attempt to absolutely tear down the efforts of an eighteen to twenty-two-year-old kid playing in front of thousands of people!  Those are the people that Roosevelt was referencing to, not the player’s “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

I once had a friend tell me that, “The easiest way to have the nicest house in the neighborhood…is to tear the rest of them down.”  Our leadership worlds are full of critics waiting to tear our house down. 

Great leaders thrive in the environment that creates the “dust and sweat and blood” of leadership.  They relish it.    

The Critics Sit in the Cheapest Seats

Babe Ruth once said, “The loudest boo’s come from The Cheapest Seats.”  I think that President Roosevelt was insinuating something bigger.  The most expensive place in the arena comes with a cost, with associated risk.  Those that get out with the lesser price of admission simply watch.  They only pay the price of admission.  They never exit the noise of the stands, they hide within it. 

The further we go in leadership, critics become abundant.  They monitor our every decision, watch our every move, just waiting to pounce.  Many great coaches will tell you in the heat of the game, they never hear the fans.  Great leaders do the same, when they are in the arena, they have the keen ability to block out the noise from the Haters and focus on the mission at hand.     

Fail While Daring Greatly

Roosevelt provides a strategy for failing.  If we are going to fail, “Fail while daring greatly.”  Those inside the arena assume not only risk, but a daring one.  The person assuming the risk is active in their efforts, not passive.  They are on their feet attempting to make progress, not sitting idle awaiting their fate.

“What is your greatest fear?”  Ask any leader this simple question and I can guarantee you that the fear of failure is at the top of the list.  The fear generated from the potential for failure is paralyzing.  It leaves us Stuck, we never step foot in the arena. 

Great leaders daringly step foot in the arena, a place critics will never tread.  If we want to be great, we must dare to fail greatly.  No great accomplishment in this world has ever been achieved through cautiously failing.    

Cold and Timid Souls

He accurately describes the person sitting outside of the arena as, “Those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Aristotle said it this way, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”  That is what those who sit outside of the area do. 

Those outside of the arena will never understand “victory nor defeat” because they are never in the action.  They don’t position themselves to win or lose, they lie idle, waiting to pounce on the failures of those trying to win the day.

Critics aim to discourage and distract.  Their selfish desires for the destruction of others are generated from “cold and timid souls.”  Those souls are combated by the warm and self-less souls of leaders empowered with the belief in others.  When it is the leader’s turn to sit outside the arena, they become the biggest cheerleaders for others.


This was only a small portion of the full speech.  If you listen to the audio of the speech, one thing stands out, Roosevelt’s passion.  The wall that separates those in the arena from those spectating is built with passion.  Passion to BE more and DO more. 

Leadership is a tough game.  Most of us can look in The Mirror and see the “dust and sweat and blood” Roosevelt speaks of.  I can assure you this, it’s way better than looking in the mirror and seeing nothing.  Seeing nothing in the reflection means we never stepped foot in the arena to begin with. 

Great leaders willingly enter the arena.  Are you willing?

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