Presidential Leadership

Last Sunday, the day prior to the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies, CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece by Barry Petersen about Presidential Leadership. Petersen interviewed several presidential historians who talked about the leadership qualities of our great presidents. Here are some of the highlights from that story.

David McCullough, one of the historians, identified these leadership qualities that the great Presidents had: Courage, Integrity, Patience, and Determination. He made particular note of a quote from John Adams that is etched in the wall of the dining room of the White House, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” (At the time, Adams may have truly meant men, but we’ll use it today in the more generic sense to include both men and women). McCullough noted how Adams listed honest first to stress that honesty is an essential part of leadership. McCullough also noted that the best Presidents (and leaders) lead not only with actions but also with words. The most effective Presidents were outstanding speakers who used this skill to motivate others to achieve more than they dreamed they could.

David Gurgin, another historian, said the position of President could be called “Unifier in Chief” and noted that persuasion is a critical role of leadership. Persuasion is necessary to bring the country (and in our case our team) along with the leader. Jon Meacham described how Thomas Jefferson used the dinner table to help him persuade others. Understanding that it’s harder to say no to people when you know them, Jefferson had dinner with different members of Congress nearly every evening of his Presidency. He developed relationships with them so that he would have their support when he needed it.

Jefferson’s strategy can be particularly challenging. It is not always easy to reach out and “break bread” with those who oppose your views and ideas. But humble, secure, and confident leaders are able to do this and to realize the benefits of open and honest communication with both their allies and adversaries. You can improve your power of persuasion by using Jefferson’s strategy. Set a goal for this week of reaching out to someone who may oppose your views on a particular topic. Humble yourself. Try to understand their thoughts and opinions. Win their support by getting to know them, much like Jefferson did with his members of Congress. Then, when you need their support, they are more likely to be there for you.

Courageous, honest, patient, determined, eloquent, persuasive, unifying – these are some of the qualities of our great Presidents. They are also necessary in our greatest leaders. How do you do with these? Pick the ones that you need to improve and begin practicing your Presidential leadership skills today.

Thanks for reading,


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