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Franlin D. Roosevelt "The Long, Difficult, Happy Days"

The somber shadow of the Great Depression lay over the nation when Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the White House in 1933. Unemployment was at an all-time high (and even after six years under Roosevelt it would be at an astonishing 25% of the work force), people were selling apples on street corners and living in cardboard "Hoovervilles." Some men left their families behind to wander, in some cases all the way across country, in search of work. In 1933 life was grim for many people and it looked as if conditions would never improve. The persistent grimness of the times left many people desperate, and of course helped Roosevelt and the Democratic Party defeat the incumbent Republican, Herbert Hoover.

The contrast of those harsh times with the new President's lively character and stirring promises could hardly have been more striking. Even the song that marked his successful 1932 election campaign, "Happy Days are Here Again," proclaimed the difference between the smiling and optimistic Franklin Roosevelt and the frowning and skeptical Hoover.

Franklin Roosevelt's presidency did not come about as the final achievement of a man struggling to earn his living as a professional politician; Roosevelt was not a man who needed to earn a living. He was born to wealth and privilege, leisure and amusement, and the arduous struggles most people face in life seemed over for him before they could properly begin. He had grown up in the protected environment of his family's Hyde Park estate and the family compound on Campobello. His early education came from tutors and governesses and he went through school in the classrooms of the privileged at Groton School and Harvard University, where he enjoyed an ample allowance and had as his associates other young men equally privileged. Upon graduation Roosevelt studied law but found it boring and was at best a dilettante lawyer. He could have settled for a very easy, comfortable and idle life had he wished to, but an easy and comfortable life, and especially an idle life, was not enough for him. There was no risk, no excitement, no adventure, no challenge in such a way of living.

The energetic and gregarious Operator Franklin Roosevelt loved freedom, activity, excitement, and impact. He was exhilarated by them, almost transported. To be able to take action, preferably dramatic action, to rise to a difficult challenge, to impose his prowess on events: these were what made life worth living. There was no room in such a life for either scientific or ethical inquiry into the realm of the mind. Concrete utility was his talent, and concrete utility the key to living happily; abstract reflection was the enemy, for abstract reflection kills the opportunity for expedient action.

Consider FDR as a political campaigner. He had entered politics almost as a dare. He was already moving in political circles because of his family and school connections, and some Democrat friends proposed to him that he run for the New York state senate in an area always controlled by Republicans. There was little chance that he could win, but it would be a useful and interesting experience. Roosevelt agreed that it was a sporting proposition and undertook the campaign, and to everyone's surprise he won.

Most people who understand the rigors of an intense election campaign quail at the thought of its demanding, even exhausting schedule. But Roosevelt loved campaigning from the very first. As time went by he became more and more versatile at electioneering and consumed energy at a rate and with a cheerfulness that astonished those who were with him. He was a fine, charismatic speech maker who could excite his audiences in the same way as did his fifth cousin, the ebullient Artisan and spellbinding orator, Teddy Roosevelt.

FDR enjoyed spur-of-the-moment activities as well as political campaigning, and his later press secretary, Steve Early, recalled that in those early years the candidate was "just a playboy" who spent a great deal of time playing cards, feeling quite free to put off the preparation of his speeches until he was almost ready to deliver them. Still FDR's speeches could be splendid. Roosevelt could persuade himself as well as the public with ingenious and stirring oversimplifications. "Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break foolish traditions....This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people" he declaimed in his acceptance speech for his party's presidential nomination; and when he later uttered his famous "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," he seemed uplifted by the assertion as much as were so many of his listeners.

Such inspiring pronouncements, even if they are not especially realistic, often swing affairs in favor of the person uttering them. FDR certainly understood this, as have generations of successful politicians. Artisans, especially the Operators, recognize this especially well and habitually say whatever they have to get what they want. FDR was a master at doing just that, just as he was a master at putting together ambitious reforms and agencies, as the people of New York saw during his governorship, and as the nation was to see when he became President. It was his vigorous governorship that helped make him a contender for the presidency in 1932.

On his way to the White House, by the way, he had the fun of being an undersecretary of the Navy as had his predecessor Teddy Roosevelt. Naval matters were a hobby of his and during his time as undersecretary Franklin Roosevelt became an enthusiastic advocate of a large navy. When the First World War broke out he tried to get himself assigned to duty at sea with the Navy, and was discouraged when he was refused on the grounds that his skills were needed where he was.

When he became President in 1933 Roosevelt put together a group of professors, analysts and other thinkers of various disciplines. He called the group, somewhat mockingly, "the brain trust." Roosevelt's "brain trust" were his advisors; they could take care of thoughtful analysis and present him their findings when he wanted that sort of thing. But they did not have the status for FDR that they might have had for a President of another character type. Roosevelt would listen to their conclusions and if he agreed with them (which did not always happen), he might act on them, for they could serve to rationalize his actions. If he didn't agree then he could quite comfortably ignore "the brain trust" and take the action he had intended all along.

He enjoyed watching advisors of different opinions vie against one another for his favor, and was not above deliberately setting them at each others' throats. Artisans often find enjoyment in conflict, unlike the Guardians and Idealists, who prize cooperation. And FDR could get away with his maneuvers. As his wife Eleanor later wrote, "Franklin had the gift of being able to draw out the people whom he wished to draw out and to silence those with whom he was bored, and in both cases the people were greatly charmed."

Even when relaxed Roosevelt was not interested in waiting for an extended analysis. He wanted to do something, and he wanted to do it now. This was true whether the issue was recreation or a problem that needed handling. The first three months he was in office demonstrates nicely his approach to problem solving: he quickly established and set in motion a diversity of largely uncoordinated federal programs to deal with the nation's severe economic difficulties. It was as though he wanted to get everything happening all at once. So striking was the flurry of activity he began during this brief time, and so intense his absorption in making things happen after the cautious actions of the Hoover administration, that those three months are still remembered as "The 100 Days." And cheering as the idea of action might be, there was often little to recommend the actions he took other than the fact that they were action. He generated agency after agency, project after project, piled one on top of the other, appointed roving troubleshooters, and generally created very confused lines of authority.

Examine closely the product of the 100 days and you will find no coordinated plan of action, no master program. He was really playing it by ear; he later likened himself to a quarterback who waits to see what one play accomplishes before deciding on another.

Roosevelt was not a long-term strategist in the fashion of the Rationals. But he was a prodigal tactician, a very clever maneuverer of people and immediate events with the extraordinary sense of timing so often seen in the Artisan. Behind the wide and winning smile, the playful sense of humor, the friendly wave of his arm, the enormous charisma, there was a cunning mind at work and a love of making an impact. FDR understood clearly the power of his smile, the confident warmth suggested by the casual wave of his arm. He knew well the intense impact that his words and phrases could have on his listeners.

Excerpted from Presidential Temperament by David Keirsey, PhD and Ray Choiniere

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