Presidential leadership has produced as many aphorisms as examples. “Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do and like it,” said Harry Truman. President Coolidge defined the other end of the action spectrum: “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.” It’s not just presidents who weigh in. Presidential critics have a lot to say about leadership too. It’s what they say a president lacks, when the president doesn’t do what they want him to. In this collection, presidential leadership is defined by men who on at least one occasion focused their energies, and chanced their political fortunes, on something larger than their self-interest. Instead of the easy win, or easy out, they took the long view.
This is usually called “presidential character,” and it was the original conception of the job. The founders believed that the mental and moral makeup of the chief executive would keep the nation in sync with its founding ideals of liberty and equality. A presidential leader had to be “fixed on true principles” as George Washington put it, in order to do the right thing for the country.
"CBS This Morning” co-anchor John Dickerson’s essay on presidential leadership is based on a series of Yahoo News interviews with historians. The interviews were conducted by Andrew Romano, Lisa Belkin and Sam Matthews, and the videos were produced by Sam Matthews. The interview with Dickerson was produced by Kristyn Martin.