With all the talk in the last several months of presidents and their capacity to lead, it is no surprise to see who landed on top of C-SPAN's survey of Presidential Leadership. Yes, once again, President Lincoln takes home the top honor. (For more on President Lincoln's leadership, see the collection of Lincoln's Lessons over at Leading Blog)
Here are the top 10 presidential leaders according to the collective wisdom of the historians in this survey group: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Jefferson, Eisenhower, Wilson, Reagan.
Three things interest me in the survey. One, it intrigues me to see some presidents rise (Grant, Clinton, Kennedy) and fall (Wilson, Cleveland, Carter) over time. It is clear that the passage of time allows us to reevaluate leadership, put it in context, and decide again on the value of various characteristics. I suspect this is what allowed the historians to better appreciate Clinton's relations with others and his overall vision and what will likely allow us to give a fair shake to the contributions of George W. Bush, much the way people have come to now view President Truman.
Secondly, these characteristics used in the survey are a good measure of executive leadership (with my interpretation in italics):
-- Public Persuasion (Communication, consensus building)
-- Leadership in Crisis
-- Economic management (Fiscal discipline and competence)
-- Moral Authority (Ethics, culture, character, guidance)
-- International Relations (Relationships)
-- Administrative skills (Management)
-- Relations with Congress (Relationships)
-- Vision / Setting an Agenda
-- Pursued equal justice for all (Ethics)
-- Performance within context of the times (Rise to the challenge)
Thirdly, on this President's Day, it is interesting to see the cream rise to the top. Lincoln received top marks for leadership in crisis, moral authority, vision, equal justice for all, and performance within context of his time. Washington was on top in economic management, moral authority, international relations, and admin skills. Between them, they have set the bar high for other Presidents and for that matter, all leaders. So you see, this is not just Presidential business...it's Leader Business.
Photo courtesy of www.americaslibrary.gov