Being More Like Mr. Rogers Is Good For The Neighborhood

I was excited to see the new documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and it did not disappoint!

I was eight when the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired, and I think I was a bit old for the target audience. I definitely remember it but wasn’t an avid watcher. After seeing this film, I really wished I had watched. I left the theater feeling hopeful and inspired…something that doesn’t happen that often these days.

Fred Rogers was simply a good, honorable man with a heart of gold. He lived by the mantra – Love your neighbor and love yourself. He was an extremely talented writer and musician. Those talents, combined with his faith, resulted in a television phenomenon that changed the lives of many children and their parents.

What a legacy!

There are SO many life and leadership lessons in this film. Here are a few that truly resonated with me:

Lead with your heart

Look deeply at each person and recognize the value they bring. Then, treat each person as valuable. Create interactions that are positive for those around you. Verbally acknowledge the contribution they make and thank them for those contributions. Be kind and thoughtful.

Appreciate silence and time to think

Fred Rogers talked about how much he loved the sacred space created by silence. When we allow for silence, we offer people time to process and then communicate what they are processing. As a leader, this can have huge payoffs. Leaders often feel they have to “lead” the discussion and silence is not comfortable for everyone. Begin to take notice of what happens with the group when you give space for silence for thought-processing. One of my favorite examples in the film was when Mr. Rogers asked his TV audience if they knew how long a minute was. Then, proceeded to set an egg timer for one minute and let it run in silence. Riveting television, right? It was for those children watching. They were given time to experience it.

Talk TO people, not AT people

Mr. Rogers never tried to impress children with his great knowledge of child development. He asked simple questions. Made simple statements. His audience always learned something, while communicating in a way that had them feeling good about themselves. The best leaders with whom I’ve worked, take time to know their audience and create opportunities for dialogue, not a monologue.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Acknowledge the feelings that are experienced by others and yourself

Practice empathy and make it safe to talk about feelings. If we create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing what’s really going on inside, we can openly address it and begin processing it. Stop pretending everything is okay or trying to prove you can handle whatever comes your way. By admitting we are scared, nervous, or upset, we are simply expressing our humanity.

At the end of the movie, there is a dialogue about what Mr. Rogers would do to address our current social climate. Without answering that question, the audience is asked, “What can you do?”

Let me encourage you to do at least this one thing. Take time this summer and enjoy this movie!

Consider the story it tells and challenge yourself to be more like Mr. Rogers.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner at PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.

Martha Duesterhoft