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Presidents’ Day: Lessons in Leadership

Today we observe Presidents’ Day. It was originally started in the 1880s to commemorate the birth of our nation’s first president, George Washington, on his actual birthday, February 22nd. This federal and state holiday has gone through some changes over the years: being combined with Lincoln’s birthday for a hybrid observation and ultimately being moved to the third Monday of February under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. The law amended certain holidays to be celebrated on a Monday to allow federal employees more three-day weekends. The bill went into effect in 1971 and then-President Nixon encouraged Americans to observe this day as a “holiday set aside to honor all presidents, even myself.” Today, many of us enjoy this as a three-day holiday weekend by participating in local patriotic parades and reenactments, doing community service, sleeping in or taking advantage of the various sales offered by retailers.

Just in time for Presidents’ Day, the Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) released the results of its’ sixth Survey of U.S. Presidents. Started in 1982, SCRI asks presidential scholars, historians, and political scientists to rate the presidents on twenty categories. This year, 157 scholars provided responses via email and web and rated the presidents on their attributes, abilities, and accomplishments during their tenure as POTUS. The categories used to evaluate the presidents included imagination, executive ability, party , court appointments, etc. and were graded on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). The responses were then assigned a weight value to determine overall ranking by category. The honors for overall top five presidents went to George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson. Our bottom five presidents based on the survey were Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding, Donald Trump, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson. For more rankings and survey data, please visit Siena’s 6th Presidential Expert Poll 1982 -2018.

In reviewing the survey results and criteria, we thought to ourselves: based on the qualities that our Commanders-in-Chief were evaluated on, which ones would be important for today’s to also possess? Here’s our top five:

  • Integrity: “If you always support the correct principles then you will never get the wrong results” (Andrew Johnson). A will face tough decisions that will test his or her moral standing. By being honest and ethical in all business dealings, you set your firm apart from other contenders in your market and create a legacy to be proud of.
  • Willing to Take Risks: “Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). FDR’s quote reminds us that if we want to see growth and changes in our business, we must be willing to take risks, take a leap of faith. We can use our resources to ensure we make the right choices but, at the end of the day, action will always be required for us to gain momentum and growth. Also, we may try and fail many times but we should keep trying.
  • Communication Ability (Speak, Write): “Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively” (Gerald R. Ford). In order to share our visions and strategies with our stakeholders, we must be able to properly convey them. Effective communication skills can also help create new allies and resolve misunderstandings.
  • Ability to Compromise: “While men inhabiting different parts of this vast continent cannot be expected to hold the same opinions, they can unite in a common objective and sustain common principles” (Franklin Pierce). This skill is especially important when one considers the diverse make-up of the modern workforce and its customers. We must learn to reach across the aisle to find resolutions to many issues that will allow all parties to feel that they gained something from the agreement.
  • Imagination: Keep exploring. Keep dreaming. Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know. Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world (Barack Obama). All our possibilities, hopes, and dreams begin in our imagination. We must dream big, think beyond the current situation to be trendsetters and tastemakers.

Like our nation’s presidents, one day your tenure as a leader too will be examined based on several criteria. Perhaps not by political pundits, but by your partners, employees, suppliers, and customers. So, whether your leadership style is to speak softly and carry a big stick (Theodore Roosevelt) or to be liked like Ike (Dwight Eisenhower), possessing the above five qualities can provide you the foundation for a successful administration.

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