President's Day: Lessons In Leadership and Personal Branding

career strategy leadership development personal branding personal development personal values purpose vision statement Feb 21, 2011
Lessons in leadership and personal branding from US Presidents

In the U.S. today is President's Day, a day to remember and celebrate the President's of the United States, past and present. In honor of this holiday I want to look at what lessons we can learn and apply to our lives and careers.

With the possible exception of George Washington, America's most loved president's are (or were) some of the most hated. Abraham Lincoln, though quite popular today, was reviled throughout much of the U.S. in his day (enough to be assassinated even). Franklin D. Roosevelt, as much as he's respected and admired for his leadership through the Great Depression and World War II is simultaneously loved and hated for the same policies. John F. Kennedy inspired a nation to new heights, literally, all the way to the moon, also has strong detractors. And Ronald Reagan was one of the most, if not most, divisive leaders up until his time.

In short, each one of these leaders knew what he stood for, had a vision and worked hard to bring that vision to life. In other words each leader knew his:

  • Personal Values
  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Mission

Let's look at each of these four qualities and illustrate how the presidents used them and how you can too.

Personal Values

Personal values are the principles by which you live your life. Your personal values guide you decisions, why you choose to tell the truth or a white lie. When you live in accordance with your values you are relaxed and centered. When you make choices that are not in accord with your personal values you feel torn or stressed. Often this is because we are not aware of what our core or top 5 values are.

Your values guide your decisions in the office as well. They affect how you see what's happening. Whether you view an employee as hard working or lazy is likely a reflection of your values, not necessarily their performance. 

What are your personal values and how are they affecting your decisions at the office?


Your purpose, in a simple sense, is your reason for being alive. Your purpose relates to your inherent gifts and talents. Every one of us is gifted in some ways and not in others. To live according to your purpose is to put those talents to use. When you are living in according to your purpose, and especially if you are also living in accordance with your personal values, your work is easy and fun. You feel passion and energetic about what you are doing. If you are in the wrong job or going about your job in the wrong way for you, you are not living on purpose and therefore will feel stress, anxiety and have a difficult time succeeding. Knowing your purpose and your vision helps you chart a path for your career development.

Do you know your purpose and how it connects to your work?


Your vision is the way you would like to see the world as a better place. Your vision is bigger than you. It illustrates the impact you have on the world. When we look at these admired presidents each had a vision for the greatness of America that resonated with people. In fact their visions are so power that they still resonate today. George Washington's vision helped form the very basis of the American presidency rather than having a king. Abraham Lincoln's vision of a unified country with slaves and free people, proclaiming against advice that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Kennedy's vision of going to the moon and the popular vision of Camelot, a paradise where it only rains on command. Reagan's "City on a Hill" for all to admire.

What vision of greatness can you create and communicate to your team, division, or company?


Your mission is how you are going to go about bringing your vision to life. In President Kennedy's case he tapped help to bring an end to segregation and spark the space program. Reagan rebuilt a military that everyone could be proud of. FDR pushed for some of the most sweeping legislation ever from banking reform, to establishing Social Security and the WPA (Work Progress Administration).

In the office you can also institute policies and foster an environment that helps bring your vision of greatness to life. How do you treat people? What qualities beyond technical skills to you look for when hiring? What is your office environment like?

What are you doing to make your team, division, or company great?

Your Plan to Great Leadership

You too can develop the qualities of a great leader. It does take time, practice, determination and a plan. Great leaders are developed over time, whether they realize it or not. You have the choice to be intentional about it. Work with friends, colleagues and a coach to help you know, understand and live your values, purpose, vision and mission.

Learn the 7 Steps to build a successful career regardless of the turmoil and disruption of the 21st Century. Download this comprehensive guide now! 

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