BLG Leadership Insights Political Competence

9 Great Leadership Quotes from 9 Not-So-Great Presidents

It’s pretty easy to put together a list of great Presidential leadership quotes if you rely on Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, FDR and Reagan. But how about extracting inspiring words from the less famous (and in many cases far less talented) Presidents? Well believe it or not, the forgettable have actually said some memorable things. Please enjoy 9 Great Presidential Quotes from some of our lesser Commanders in Chief.

1. “It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.”  Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) 

2. “Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.”  Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

3. “It would be judicious to act with magnanimity towards a prostrate foe.” Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)

4. “Failure to accord credit to anyone for what he may have done is a great weakness in any man.”  William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

5. “The bold enterprises are the successful ones. Take counsel of hopes rather than of fears to win in this business.” Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)

6. “The government should not be guided by Temporary Excitement, but by Sober Second Thought.” Martin VanBuren (1837-1841)

7. “A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”  Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

8. “It takes a great man to be a good listener.” Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

9. “It’s not necessary to fear the prospect of failure but to be determined not to fail.” Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)

BLG Leadership Insights

Temperament and Leadership: Obama vs. Roosevelt

When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes met Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 he said that he had a ”second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament!”

Temperament is the “great separator” argued legendary political scientist Richard Neustadt in his oft read classic Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. “Experience will leave its mark on expertise; so will a man’s ambition for himself and his constituents. But something like that ‘first-rate’ temperament is what turns know-how and desire into his personal account.” Neustadt writes.

A fine temperament denotes a particular mixture of ease, poise, and timing. Jonathan Alter’s The Promise, offers a vivid account of President Obama’s first year in office and dedicates a chapter to President Obama’s legendary “cool under pressure” disposition.

Barack Obama came to office with both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. Even his staunchest opponents in Congress didn’t try to deny that he was smart and had an easy rapport with people he met personally. The challenge for Obama concerned his  public temperament and the way his character and style connected to the American people.

Temperament does not always make or break leaders. It’s not a sufficient measuring stick to determine the strength and weakness of a leader. Any leadership position presents temperamentally well-suited managers and bosses with a hundred ways to fail. Obama’s easygoing temperament improves his odds of handling the ongoing challenges and unpredictable events that continue to determine his fate. A good temperament can help ease factionalism and combat challenges that arise during any leader’s tenure, but ultimately execution remains the crucial test of any leader.

In an age when the public gets to ‘know’ the president intimately temperament may seem like an increasingly important factor in presidential elections. Still, America’s leaders haven’t always possessed great temperaments. Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush have all famously lacked a solid temperament and have struggled to connect with the public because of it. Temperament, while helping leaders smooth tensions, isn’t always a key to success. It might be less of a “great separator” and more of a helpful knack.

Picture credit: Amy Arch