Presidents Day -- Five past presidents and the leadership lessons we can learn from them

The role of leader of the nation may be the most difficult leadership role there is

Every Presidents Day our nation remembers the men who have led our nation. While many of our presidents have endured hardships and led through trying times, there are some who have truly made a mark.

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Leadership skills are easy to talk about, simple to write about, but very difficult to exemplify and embody -- particularly as the leader of the United States. Unlike many roles, the role of the president is on display for all to see. It is a position put at the forefront of our nation to be viewed, analyzed and critiqued by all.


The role of leader of the nation may very well be the most difficult role of leadership there is. When one has handled it with courage and grace under fire, it is nothing short of notable.

Few examples of leadership have impacted the trajectory of our nation and world quite like the role of a president. Here are five presidents who displayed leadership qualities that every leader can learn from.

1. Abraham Lincoln imagined what could be and made it happen with civility. When Lincoln set out to create the Emancipation Proclamation, he imagined a reality that so many couldn’t, and one that many refused to. Not only did Lincoln change the course of history through this movement, but he did it with such grace against great opposition.

Engraved William G. Jackman after photo by Mathew Brady.. (Photo by Stapleton Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of Lincoln in her book “Team of Rivals,” that in the days leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation the president would often say, “To win a man to your cause you must first reach his heart, the great high road to his reason.”

As a leader, Lincoln showed us how to see through a conviction with grace and civility.


2. Franklin Roosevelt possessed financial wisdom. Roosevelt was our longest-serving president, leading our country through a tumultuous era. Roosevelt was elected during the Great Depression and remained in office until his death, just months before the end of World War II in 1945.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), president of the United States (1933-1945), who developed government reforms known as the New Deal, secured establishment of Securities and Exchange Commission (1934), and the Social Security system (1935). (Photo b

Even during our country’s most vulnerable seasons, Roosevelt discovered ways to strengthen our financial protection by increasing the role of the federal government and instilling programs such as Social Security.

It was Roosevelt’s financial stewardship and wisdom that helped America to rise from such a trying season.

3. Thomas Jefferson remained innovative. Most widely known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson is also remembered as a creative. Some even refer to Jefferson as “the last Renaissance man.”

Thomas Jefferson. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Having mastered six languages and playing the violin, Jefferson also designed the architecture of his home. Jefferson’s innovative and renaissance spirit shaped much of what America is today. He paved the way for many new steps in America and all the while continued to never lose interest in learning, growing and trying new things. Jefferson once said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

An innovative entrepreneurial spirit can lead a nation or a company where it’s never been before.


4. Ronald Reagan embodied constant character. Although presidents of the past have led with character as well, Reagan may be most remembered for possessing this vital leadership trait during trying times.

Pres. Ronald W. Reagan (R) standing outside White House with Japan's Crown Prince Akihito. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In an essay, Peggy Noonan wrote on the courage Reagan held to reinstate a conservative nation following a wave of more widely-accepted liberal leadership. Noonan wrote, “Yes. At the core of Reagan's character was courage, a courage that was, simply, natural to him, a courage that was ultimately contagious. When people say President Reagan brought back our spirit and our sense of optimism, I think what they are saying in part is, the whole country caught his courage.”

Reagan’s spirit influences leaders and even politicians today that staying true to your values and vision requires courage and character.

5. George W. Bush led with empathy. Many may have considered Bush’s emotional tendencies as a negative trait, but his passion and empathy were strengths he possessed as president.

Bush often wore his heart on his sleeve and embodied a great passion for people during some of America’s darkest days. Leading the nation through the terror and tragedies of 9/11, Bush’s empathy brought peace to America at a time when little would. He put himself right on the scene in New York City and cared for the people impacted by this event.

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) hugs a member from the audience following remarks in Mission, Texas, August 3, 2006. Bush toured an area bordering Mexico to highlight his immigration reform. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) - GM1DTESHZSAA

While it may take you out of your comfort zone at the time, lead the people around you with compassion and empathy.

There is no doubt that something is to be learned from each man who has led our nation, but some men simply stand out above the rest. It’s not based on their religious beliefs, their party affiliations or even their charisma, but it is based on how they chose to lead.