Lessons on Success from Five American Presidents

motivational quote by Abraham LincolnPresidents of the United States are certainly curious creatures. They’re often enshrined in the history books, as more than just mere men – celebrated and embellished, ranking high in the American folklore pantheon with Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan.

By the same token, these men are often demonized and their memories scorned for some of their historically unpopular decisions. Since Washington, they’ve received constant coverage by journalists and historians. Yet still, they often remain mysterious and aloof.

However, despite the thick enigmatic shroud of intrigue that has covered our nation’s Commanders-in-Chief, the rest of us can rest assured that these American giants have always been human. They’ve had successes and failures, hope and disappointments. Until modern times, many had severe dental issues.

Though, despite their humanity, they were able to rise to the highest government office from sea-to-shining-sea. Not only are their journeys admirable, but can also serve as inspiration for young professionals climbing up the career ladder.

So, what was it that drove their successes, carrying their human weaknesses along with them? Perhaps it was just these 5 tokens of good ol’ fashioned wisdom and common sense:

#5: Theodore Roosevelt – Fear

Both Roosevelt presidents must have had a unique capacity for understanding the nature of fear. FDR’s “nothing to fear” quote will surely remain canonized in American history, but Theodore Roosevelt also had an interesting take on the topic:

“The only man who makes no mistake is the man who does nothing.”

Of course, being a Rough Rider might have had something to do with his “charge forward” kind of attitude. Still, the lesson was simple: you get nowhere, being paralyzed by fear and procrastination. Mistakes are inevitable, but it’s successful people who know how best to handle prospect of failure.

#4: Abraham Lincoln – Failure

Lincoln is notorious in the history books for his relentless political failures throughout his life, right up until he was elected president of the United States. In the face of such a current against him, most of us would have simply given up. But, perhaps that was his secret:

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

What can this teach us? Failure was not even a concern of his. Feeling satisfied with failure could be the real culprit that’s barring us from success.

#3: Warren G. Harding – Ambition

It was a barnburner that makes modern-day oil scams look like counting cards in Vegas. The Teapot Dome scandal under the Harding Administration inflicted a fatal blow on the former president’s entire political career. Interestingly, Harding took away two lessons from being caught in the middle of the crossfire:

“Ambition is a commendable attribute without which no man succeeds. Only inconsiderate ambition imperils.”

The first lesson is that ambition can drive a person towards success. But if left unchecked, it can lead to a nasty fall. This leads us to the second lesson: even though you might have succeeded beyond your wildest imaginations, stay humble enough to know a teachable moment when you see one.

#2: Thomas Jefferson – Standing Firm

Jefferson is one of the most iconic presidents in American history, and for good reason. While he was an eccentric introvert, he was keenly aware of the issues that mattered very little, and of the ones on which he should stand strong:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

He centered his life upon ideas. Likely because of that, he was asked by John Adams to pen the first draft of America’s charter: The Declaration of Independence.

#1: John Quincy Adams – Leadership

The English poet, John Donne, once wrote, “No man is an island…”. By that principle, true success cannot be achieved by simply going it alone. In order to succeed, we must also learn to lead. President John Quincy Adams was no stranger to leadership:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

True leadership has very little to do with ordering people around. Rather it has mostly to do with inspiring people. When people are inspired, the greatest accomplishments are within reach, because everyone sees the same picture.
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Alicia Lawrence works for an Internet marketing company and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Business Insider, and Spin Sucks.

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