How Did Americans Get So Lucky?

Lucky enough to have had some indisputably great leaders. Lucky enough to have had some presidents so widely and greatly admired that they have been ranked by historians to be at or near the top for the past twenty years.

For two decades C-Span has conducted surveys of which presidents are considered the best leaders.* This year 142 historians participated in the poll, in which they were asked to ranked America’s chief executives from 1 to 10 in each of ten leadership categories: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with congress, setting an agenda, pursuit of equal justice for all, and performance within the context of the times.

During all the years the poll has been conducted, the following four presidents came out on top, and in just this order: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt. In fifth place this year was Dwight Eisenhower; in 2020, when the survey was first conducted he was ranked only 9th . So there is some movement. But the group at the top has been remarkably consistent.

The results of the survey were just released. Which makes this a good day – this Independence Day in the United States of America – to make a prediction. To predict that one day, not so long from now, Joe Biden will be ranked by historians as among the greatest of American presidents.

I know. I have no business, especially as an ostensible leadership expert, to make so preliminary a judgement, so rash and risky a prediction. After all Biden has been in office a mere half year. Still, if you look at the man and what he accomplished during his first six months in office, and you compare these to the criteria for excellence developed by C-Span, it’s hard to dispute he has a fair shot.


*C-Span’s surveys are conducted only when there is a change in administration, so each presidency can be evaluated in its entirety.  

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