All of our 45 United States Presidents made it to that prestigious position because they possessed leadership qualities and attributes in some form. However, simply because you are elected President, doesn’t mean you are automatically a great leader. Leadership is a process. Leadership requires work. Leadership necessitates action.

Personal Interlude: I’ll be honest – my inclination to write this blog stems from my lack of observance for the Presidents Day holiday while growing up. I used to view it as a day off school or a day off work. A few years back, I realized that I never thought deeply about the holiday’s significance and the impact our leaders have had on this country. So this year, I have decided to reflect and be thankful.

Out of our long list of Presidents, there are some who truly stand out as the most impactful leaders in our country’s history. Three Presidents who are commonly revered as the greatest and most influential leaders are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although we live in completely different eras, with diverse societies and under entirely different political and socio-economic climates, there are still key leadership traits that transcend time. So what made these three men some of the top leading Presidents of all time? What traits and attributes can we learn from these remarkable leaders – and apply to our own leadership profiles?



We all know that Lincoln saved the Union during the American Civil War. We’ve read the books and seen the movies about Lincoln’s heroic actions that eventually led to the abolition of slavery across the United States. With a nation at war and in deep despair and aggression, how did Lincoln lead the country to a pivotal turning point? What leadership tactics did he use to help the country prevail?

  1. Organized a Great Team

Lincoln assembled the best and brightest to his Cabinet. He demonstrated his leadership by organizing a unique team that represented the greatest thinkers and visionaries of his time. An admirable trait of Lincoln was his ability to listen to different points of view. He created a culture where his team was free to disagree without fear of consequence. At the same time, he knew when to halt a discussion and after listening to the various opinions, make a final decision that he felt was best for all.

  1. Communicated a Vision & Goals

Lincoln made concerted and deliberate efforts to communicate his goals to his Cabinet and the country. He aimed to make concepts simple and communicated with an understanding of the concerns of his citizens. When the war ended and he won reelection, he could have focused on his achievements. Instead, in his second inaugural speech, he focused on bringing the country together.

  1. Went Out into the Field and Managed

During the Civil War, many soldiers lost their lives. Lincoln made an effort to show he cared about the soldiers and appreciated their commitment and sacrifice. He frequently visited the battlefield and hospitals and worked to establish lasting connections with the troops. Lincoln also spent time talking with members of the public, by holding open receptions. This passion and involvement helped strengthen morale.

  1. Accepted Responsibility

As the leader, Lincoln took ownership, especially when times were tough. He shared the blame for failure even when mistakes were made by members of his Cabinet. When errors were made by members of his Cabinet, Lincoln stood up for them and indicated that he and his entire Cabinet were to blame. Lincoln had an unwavering ability to withstand adversity.



As the nation’s first President, George Washington set a high standard of exemplary leadership. His focus to not be seen as a ‘ruler’ was an extremely important part of creating a citizen President. Also, the fact that he retired after two terms set a commendable precedent only broken by Franklin Roosevelt. With a nation so new and so vulnerable, how did Washington lead the country forward? What leadership tactics did he use to help the country take shape?

  1. Showed Commitment

Washington was a leader who inspired the confidence and commitment of the people he led. He communicated a vision, committed to it and lived by it. He was dedicated to American independence.

  1. Made Sacrifices

Washington’s sacrifice for America is supported by the facts that he served as commander of the Continental Army without pay. He was nearly bankrupt by the time he returned home to Mount Vernon after serving as the country’s first president.

  1. Valued His Team

Like many great leaders who inspire their followers, George Washington valued the people he led rather than thinking of them as means to an end. His soldiers knew that he respected and cared for them, and that he would share their hardships. He took pride in seeing that his soldiers were well housed.

  1. Displayed Humility

Washington was confident, yet humble. His humility was reflected in the way he gave people a voice by seeking and considering their opinions and ideas. Historians have noted that during the Constitutional Convention over which Washington presided, he rarely said a word other than to intervene and make decisions to break a logjam in the deliberations.



Having served four terms as President, FDR was sure to make a lasting impact on the United States. Roosevelt’s leadership throughout World War II was critical to the nation’s victory. Further, he worked tirelessly to end the Great Depression, including creating numerous programs through his New Deal to help Americans get back on their feet. What leadership traits did FDR employ to drive our country forward and garner long and steadfast support from his citizens?

  1. Maintained Positive Outlook

FDR led the country through the greatest economic depression of all time in the 1930s, and the worst totalitarian threat the U.S. ever faced in the 1940s. He could have floundered during those trying years, but Roosevelt took center stage and promised hope to Americans by lifting their spirits with his fireside chats and economic reforms. He remained strong, confident and committed to the American people and worked to bring economic stability.

  1. Consistent Decision Maker

FDR knew what was best for the country – and was aware of the massive decisions that needed to be made in order to move the country forward. Although we would have liked to remain neutral, FDR took aggressive action with his decision to send war supplies to Europe.

  1. Built Strong Relationships

FDR received unmatched support and cooperation from Congress. He worked with Winston Churchill to establish the foundations of the United Nations. He allied with Churchill and Joseph Stalin to defeat the Axis powers in World War II. He understood the art of compromise and relationship building in Washington and the importance of mass communication to the nation.

  1. Showed Resilient Character

When FDR was diagnosed with polio, he faced the disease with courage, tenacity, and hopefulness. These same character traits would be demonstrated when, as commander in chief, he sought to encourage a nation struggling against the Great Depression and then against the Axis powers in the Second World War.

While we live in a different age, the prominent leadership characteristics displayed by these three Presidents are still important characteristics that make define leaders of today. Leaders are not born, leaders are made. Being a leader is also not an assigned position – It’s taking action. It’s accepting responsibility. It’s moving people towards a goal.  We can all learn from the traits and abilities of these leaders, and look to apply them to our own leadership identity.





Kristen Kjellman Marshall is an Associate Partner at velocityHUB and the Executive Director of the Victory Academy.  The velocityHUB team serves as consultants, trainers and executive coaches to some of the world’s leading companies, universities and entrepreneurial, growth-oriented businesses.  Kristen is the driving force behind velocityHUB’s Victory Academy, a series of leadership development programs specifically focused on maximizing the potential of the emerging generation for colleges, high schools and youth groups.  Kristen and her diverse team of leadership coaches work with college academic and athletic departments to instill leadership attributes, professional skills and bring real-world experience to some of the most prestigious campuses across the country such as Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Miami, Tufts University, Connecticut College, Babson College, UMass Lowell, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Amherst College and many others.

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