For the past several years, I have made a hobby of reading biographies of U.S. presidents. So far, I have studied all the 20th century presidents starting with Theodore Roosevelt, the first seven presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams and Jackson), and Abraham Lincoln.

In most polls ranking the “best” U.S. presidents, the top five typically include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. The list remains the same regardless of whether the raters are liberal or conservative.

Beyond personal interest, my reason for reading about the presidents is to see what can be learned about leadership that could be of use to CEO clients of The Bailey Group. What I have come to admire in these great leaders are character traits they share:

  • Humility
  • Decisiveness
  • Ability to persevere and act when the stakes are unimaginably high
  • Purpose that transcends self interest

Most business leaders never face the challenges of war and economic calamity. Despite this, my experience has been that these traits are also ones that describe the best CEOs.

The best healthcare CEOs are driven by providing access to cost effective care. CEOs who lead successful transformation must make choices in the face of doubt from their boards, their employees and their shareholders. Jim Collins showed us that humility (which includes an awareness of ones limits) is one of the qualities of Level 5 Leadership. A quote from Theodore Roosevelt that resonates with many of the best CEOs is: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

On this President’s Day, when our country is divided and partisanship seems to overrule patriotism, we would do well to remember the virtues of humility, perseverance and transcendent purpose.

Happy President’s Day!

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