The United States has a president who has an unusual background. No, I'm not talking about Barack Obama's Kenyan or Indonesian roots. I'm talking about the fact that he comes out of the legislature.
Almost all American presidents have had executive experience. There have been vice presidents, governors or generals. Over the last century, only two before President Obama have come directly from the legislature, John F. Kennedy and Warren Harding.
Does this matter? After all, most people think of John F. Kennedy as a very good president, and, at any rate, a man who vigorously exercised executive power.
Is President Obama's background the right one for an age in which negotiations are inevitable and compromise with the legislature is essential? Or is he just too weak as a president?
To answer these questions intelligently, we need ask ourselves what makes a good leader? What makes a great leader? I think the answer will vary widely, depending on the time and place. After all, the qualities that made Gen. George Patton a successful head of the Third Army are probably not the same as those that will help a managing partner in a law firm lead his team in New York.
Max Weber famously made distinctions between charismatic leaders, authoritarian leaders and bureaucratic leaders. Charismatic leaders inspire, authoritarian ones command, and bureaucratic ones manage. I would add a fourth, a collegial leader, one who leads by persuasion.
When I travel around the country and around the world, there's one thing people often want to know. They say to me, you meet so many people who run things - countries, companies, government agencies. What strikes you as the best qualities of a leader?
So, let's explore exactly that. Let's think through what makes a good leader by listening to some of the people who have led in various fields. You will find that they emphasize different aspects of leaderships. Some have tasks that require more command, others more persuasion. But perhaps the truth is that to succeed in any of these positions, one needs a mix of all these qualities.
Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, on how he steered a nation:
Lou Gerstner, who has taken some American corporate icons from the brink of bankruptcy to billions in profits, on leading through crisis:
Former Governor of New Jersey, Christie Whitman, on how a woman can lead in world that is often still male-dominated:
Rick Levin, the president of Yale University, on leading by persuasion:
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on not just how to lead, but how to command: