Five Lessons on Enrollment from Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers is known for reaching millions of children with his groundbreaking television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Besides being the lead of a hit show, Fred Rogers took on many roles. He was also a writer, a puppeteer, an ordained Presbyterian minister, a musician, and much more. Bullied as a child, Fred made a commitment to look below the surface of everyone — a privilege his classmates did not afford him — to what he called the “essential invisible” within them. This began what would become Mister Rogers’ great work in advocating for and sharing kindness (work which, it should be noted, earned him 40 honorary degrees, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, and induction into the Television Hall of Fame).

Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife of 50 years, put together a little book called Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way. It’s a collection of sweet messages Fred wrote, sung, and delivered in speeches throughout his productive life. It is every bit as loving and inspiring as you’d imagine coming from Mister Rogers. What surprised us as we read through the book is his near-constant references to the role others play in one’s own success, which we refer to as enrollment — a core competency of Exploratory Leadership. But it’s no surprise, as Fred Rogers was an Exploratory Leader long before we coined the term.

Mister Rogers is famous for his line, “won’t you be my neighbor.” In the book, he refers to neighbors in a more general term than many of us are used to. To him, a neighbor is someone who has been with you on your life’s journey at some point. A neighbor, to Mister Rogers, is simply someone you’ve enrolled to come along with you.

Fred became the influential Mister Rogers with a lot of others’ help, including child psychologist Margaret McFarland, who mentored Fred and played a big role in the development of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. His humility and acknowledgment that he became who he did by standing on the shoulders of many others is what makes his words in Life’s Journeys so authentic and valuable.

Here are five of the most memorable things we learned about enrollment from the legendary Fred Rogers.

“Anyone who has ever been able to sustain good work has had at least one person — and often many — who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.”

It’s true: from parents to teachers, coaches to friends, success is a product of everyone who has helped us along the way. Besides everything we learn during our developmental years, we become what Fred calls “competent human beings” with the generosity and knowledge of our colleagues and mentors, too. Whether we learn from books or from bosses, our success is a culmination of many others’ contributions.

“When we can truly respect what someone brings to what we’re offering, it makes the communication all the more meaningful.”

When pursuing an idea or chasing a dream, like Fred’s dream of influencing children, you will involve many different people at different times. Let’s say your idea is to open a coffee shop, for example. The first person you might enroll into this big idea is your spouse. By listening to and respecting what your spouse brings to the table, you will create meaningful — and ultimately helpful — communications that will catalyze your success.

“A person can grow to his or her fullest capacity only in mutually caring relationships with others.”

Going back to our developmental years, our parents or guardians played a monumental role in helping us become competent adults. They taught us how to make a sandwich or ask for help when we need it. In school, our teachers taught us how to read and write, solve problems and come up with solutions. These caring relationships, whether we remember all of them or not, were instrumental in the development of who we are today.

“There is much more to independence than learning to master new skills. One of the most important parts of independence is learning to form new relationships with other people.”

Studio/E co-founder Tom Wiese says if you don’t have love, you often have fear. Love is fundamental to belonging, and belonging is fundamental to being a happy, healthy person. But we are not born into all of the relationships we need to thrive; many we must develop on our own, such as mentorships and friendships, for example. According to Fred, whose study of psychology and development was extensive, the ability to form new relationships is a building block of independence.

“I feel I’ve been greatly blessed by many people I’ve been able to meet and come to know. Sure, I’ve worked hard. You don’t choose a job and expect not to work hard. But you can expect that you don’t have to do it alone. Nobody should have to do it alone.”

There’s Mister Rogers’ humility again. Yes, he worked hard. But if it weren’t for people like his team on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, his wife Joanne, or child psychologist Margaret McFarland, he says he wouldn’t have become Mister Rogers. We especially like his note, “Nobody should have to do it alone.” Our life’s journeys are not meant to be explored alone. In this particular instance, Mister Rogers is referring to building a career, which one should never have to do alone. Always expect that those who came before you, no matter your role, no matter if you’re working for a brand new company, will be willing to help. What’s important is acknowledging how necessary that help is, and that we can’t — nor should we have to — do it alone.

Mister Rogers’ work has already proven the test of time. Let him be an example of how important it is to bring others along on your journeys with you, as great Exploratory Leaders tend to do. And always remember, you don’t have to do it alone.

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