What Skills Does a President Need?

Barack Obama speaks with young woman in Cleveland, OH
Barack Obama speaks with young woman in Cleveland, OH | Source

The top ten skills a president needs to be successful

The skills on this short list are important for success in any field, but a national leader needs to demonstrate these skills at a higher level of excellence.

I. Vision

A national leader must have a strong vision of where the country is going, and a plan to bring it there. Like Moses in the wilderness, a leader must always keep the goal of the journey in mind, and keep reminding people that it exists.

During the crisis of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill laid out in plain language exactly what England was going to do.

"We shall fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender"

II. Charisma

A national leader must have powerful charisma, to gain the support of the country and to inspire each citizen to contribute to its success.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression, his evident confidence and conviction persuaded the people that the economy might recover.

"The only thing we have to fear…"

Charisma on the airwaves

Which American president sounds most inspiring on the radio?

  • Barack Obama
  • George W. Bush (Bush the younger)
  • Bill Clinton
  • George H. W. Bush (Bush the older)
  • Jimmy Carter
  • None of these could ever hold a candle to Martin Luther King Jr.
See results without voting

III. Perseverance

A president must persevere. Setbacks can only be temporary. He (or she!) must address them and press forward.

Future President Richard Nixon--not wealthy, not popular, not attractive--persisted his way through law school, earning the nickname "Iron Butt" for out-studying his classmates. As a politician, he outlasted scandals and defeats before finally being elected president. In office he was unrelenting in investigating his enemies, which led to Watergate and his impeachment.

Nixon would never give up and go quietly

V. Communication

A national leader must be an effective global communicator of our vision, of the actions we will take, and of how other countries can engage with us.

People called President Ronald Reagan "The Great Communicator." He could certainly deliver a speech.

Effective use of four short words

VI. Intellect

A national leader must have a strong mind and incredible stamina to synthesize, process, and understand the vast amount of information coming in daily.

(Fun fact: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has a Ph. D. in physical chemistry.)

Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton could always think on their feet, ready to say something about any complex issue put to them. But George W. Bush would often pop out of gear, mentally, in public.

Some lapses by George W. Bush

VII. Focus

A leader of a huge enterprise must select a few tasks to execute at an exceedingly high level. This requires a focus on the most important problems.

Nixon's highest-priority project was rapprochement with China. His visit to China was a surprising breakthrough. His foreign policy might have brought about even closer relations between the US and the "Communist Bloc," but his term was truncated by Watergate.

Nixon visits China

VIII. Pragmatism

A leader must be willing to make tough decisions, decisions that not everyone will like. He or she must put the total good of the people above the good of donors and a vocal minority. He or she must realize there are good things that cannot be done, given priorities and resources.

Perhaps the American Presidents who made the toughest decisions were the ones who got us out of the Asian wars--Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. There was always some disagreement with the decisions that began these optional wars, and there are still plenty of recriminations about the decisions that got us out of them.

In this masterful political ad, Nixon's team promises to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon promises to end the Vietnam War

IX. Ability to listen

Before making the ultimate decision, a leader must first truly listen to the advisors, the people, and the critics.

Bill Clinton claimed to be a good listener, and suffered a lot of teasing for that.

Bill Clinton: "I feel your pain"

X. Love

A leader must love his or her people and country genuinely.

In this 9/11 video, President George W. Bush embraces a firefighter and expresses gratitude on behalf of the country.

George W. Bush impromptu speech at site of 9/11/2001 disaster

A footnote: Are skills the most important thing?

Five years ago, in an earlier edition of this Hub, 59% of people polled said current President Barack Obama has these ten skills. Yet many say Obama hasn't accomplished his goals, despite these skills.

It's very American to connect "skills" with "success." Here are two reasons to think they might not be the same thing when it comes to presidents.

1. Skills…for what?

By now it's become an American cliché--the life skills a president needs to get elected are evidently not those he needs to govern.

In this classic 1972 movie, an attractive candidate gains the overwhelming support of the people without having any idea what he means to do with it.

Robert Redford as the newly elected senator in "The Candidate"

2. Do skills plus goals equal success? Maybe not.

In the speech below, in April 2013, former President Jimmy Carter says the US is achieving the opposite of its clearly stated and shared goals: it is promoting war instead of peace, and violating human rights instead of protecting them.

Carter acknowledges Obama's competence, and confirms that Obama's administration shares these goals. Then why can't the Obama administration in practice work for peace and human rights? Something is broken.

Why can't a newly re-elected president achieve laudable goals?

What do you think?

Has Barack Obama succeeded as a US president?

  • Yes
  • No, because he lacks the required skills
  • No, because he doesn't know what he should try to do
  • No, because although he knows what needs to be done, the system won't let him do it.
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Comments 15 comments

gredmondson 7 years ago

I agree with you about Barack Obama possessing those skills necessary to be a great president. Recently, I read a review of a book about the attitude and intelligence of presidents. The author believed that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt scored high in both intelligence and attitude. Richard Nixon was given as an example of high intgelligence and low attitude.

Mary K Weinhagen profile image

Mary K Weinhagen 7 years ago from Minnesota, usa, Planet Earth

I absolutely agree that those are vital elements of an effective leader... AND that Obama has them in spades! It's almost as though he was tailor made for the job... though why, exactly he'd want it is still something of a mystery to me. ;-)

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

I, too, think Obama has those skills. But we're in a deep hole which will take some time to get out of.

Jennifer Bhala Hansen 7 years ago

Can't you have a third choice in the voting are that says "I hope so"

He seems to be smart and intelligent and respectful but whether he has the power to make his own decisions, and not be influened by the one's running the government, who knows. I am disappointed in the way the bailout is being handled by him. And I don't think the IRS guy who didn't pay his taxes should keep his position because if that was one of us, we would not be able to.

I guess that list shows that bush wasn't successful.

Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 7 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

Great hub. Well written but a bit short. If I'd written it, I'd have got a message from Maddie saying it was too short. :-) Just kidding! But bitter!

Karen  7 years ago

I agree that President Obama has the skills you've mentioned. I also think he has a natural diplomacy, confidance, and compassion about him.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

I believe that Mr. Obama is an incredibly skilled President who would have gone down in history as one of the best ever, if it wasn't for the year he was elected. I strongly doubt that any intellectual or character traits, no matter how advanced, will be able to insulate the American public from the profound shocks of the next four years.

Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul Edmondson 7 years ago from Burlingame, CA Author

I was recently told that during good times, few people care about who is President, Senator, or much about the government, but, when things are bad. People care. A lot.

I think Obama will benefit from the interest of the people, even if the next four years are very rough.

foxility profile image

foxility 7 years ago

Very well put, Paul. We'll see what type of legacy Obama leaves behind.

Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

I have to classify myself as a pessimist as pertains to the outlook for all aspects of the American economy during Mr. Obama's first term. I believe we have already passed the sign: "Beyond Here Be Dragons." I pray that Mr. Obama can lead all of the world's financial system to a soft landing, but I see nothing but jagged rocks below. :(

sam sawyer  5 years ago

i agree Paul Edmondson

Tom 4 years ago

What about Experience, Leadership, Wisdom, Character, Morality and Judgment.

On all those he is not bad, he’s Pathetic.

Tom 4 years ago

Your top 10 skills are symbolic, Hitler had most of them.

Aaron Wilkins 14 months ago

Now almost 8 years later we find Obama is not a Christian, but a Muslim. A liar, can't run a lemmon aid stand let alone a country. He lets immigrants into America without any securing our borders. He should be in Jail

Me 12 months ago

Because I think I like to guess the first because I don't know how they sound

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