Updated: Jan 19
Do introverts have what it takes to be president? Packed with insights and surprising facts - just in time for Inauguration Day!
Ever wonder if introverts make great presidents? Do extroverts make better presidents? What traits are critical to the success of the US Commander in Chief?
For this week's blog, I've compiled an apolitical list of past presidents (through #44) considering their personality type and their greatness. The list is not based on ideology or even policy, but more so on their personal traits. Their greatness is based on independent ratings*.
During today's Introvert Revolution, introverts worldwide are pushing back on the stereotypes of yesterday and embracing who they are, proving anything is possible. But the highest office in the land? Could introverts succeed in such an outgoing, demanding role, especially in the less progressive eras of the past?
As an amateur historian and ardent introvert, I have been intrigued by this subject. The project has posed many challenges in comparing the personalities of presidents during peace and wartime, from the 18th century and the world of today. I also discovered some cool presidential facts that will leave you amazed (and give you lots of material for your virtual Election Day party).
Top 5 Introverts (scored the highest on the Introvert rating**)
Gerald Ford (93% Introvert; 47% Greatness*): despite assuming the presidency in very difficult times, Ford placed country over party and over his own personal ambitions. He was principled, empathetic, humble, transparent, and selfless in his actions. Ford was driven to do the right thing...and it cost him the election after two years.
Harry Truman (92% Introvert; 75% Greatness*): always the underdog, Truman followed nearly 4 terms by FDR but boldly set his own agenda in the face of the end of WWII and beginning of the Cold War. Truman was an avid learner, very humble, and valued a very small but loyal group of confidants. Truman was patient yet decisive. He was resilient despite many issues of the time and political naysayers. He fired General MacArthur on principle and shaped the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe as a strategic and caring way to turn the page on WWII.
Jimmy Carter (91% Introvert; 45% Greatness*): Carter was smart, passionate, and humble. His modest upbringing shaped his politics. He was determined yet quiet. His inability to motivate the nation and rectify the economy and the Iran hostage crisis opened the door for a much stronger personality - Ronald Reagan.
Abraham Lincoln (90% Introvert; 95% Greatness*): in the most challenging of circumstances, unlike his many predecessors, he stood on principle to address the issues that were tearing the nation apart, namely slavery. He was actually not well-liked during his presidency. He was socially awkward and very humble. He was resilient during the long Civil War, yet remained principled. Lincoln journaled often to help vent and process issues and became a great orator through practice and determination. Lincoln was quite circumspect and valued the opinions of a diverse cabinet.
Franklin Roosevelt (87% Introvert; 89% Greatness*): quite serious and self-confident. His polio affliction marked his personal struggle and drove his relations with people and wife Eleanor. He became patient and persistent. Roosevelt was very empathetic despite his exclusive upbringing. Roosevelt was a visionary through times of recovery from the Great Depression and WWII. He appeared calm and personable while optimistic and transparent.
Top 3 Extroverts (scored the lowest on the Introvert rating**)
Theodore Roosevelt (10% Introvert; 81% Greatness*): Roosevelt was an "unstoppable ball of energy." He loved being president. He loved being the focus of attention, he craved adventure and relished the power. His energy and optimism lifted the nation out of the post-Civil War doldrums. He remained a kid at heart and accumulated varied accomplishments with trust-busting and progressive ideals. He was principled, passionate, and persuasive both as president, as calvary lead with the Rough Riders in Cuba, and as an explorer in the American West, Amazon, and Africa.
John Adams (19% Introvert; 63% Greatness*): Adams was considered quite the socialite. He was tactless and often emotionally out of control. Yet his honesty and courage helped to progress the ideals Washington had modeled.
Lyndon Johnson (20% Introvert; 69% Greatness*): LBJ was bigger than the room. He was a natural politician. He was considered cruel, hard, ruthless. LBJ was egotistical and liked to hear himself talk. He was wildly volatile but quite persuasive and manipulative. He wielded tremendous power which he generally directed to, perhaps surprisingly, help others through social reform and civil rights reform.
2 Presidents Right in the Middle (scored ~50% on the Introvert rating**)
George Washington (50% Introvert; 93% Greatness*): Washington utilized his resiliency, courage, humility, and charisma to convert chaos to success, both on the battlefield and as the first president. Washington was brilliant in considering how to translate the Constitution into practice and balance his reflective nature with his ability to engage others.
George W. Bush (49% Introvert; 40% Greatness*): Tries to live life to the fullest. No nonsense. Charming, yet disciplined. Tried to pair compassion with conservatism. Bush managed at a macro level w/ delegation, trust, and empowering his VP...perhaps too much.
The Fine Print
*The Greatness Score is pulled directly from the Boise State Political Science 2018 Survey of 170 political. The Siena College Research Institute's 2018 Presidential Expert Poll of 157 presidential scholars was considered as well but had little tangible differences with the Boise State study.
**The Introvert rating is my assessment of personality traits through research on each president, largely through the Washington Post's 2016 Presidential podcast hosted by Lillian Cunningham. Traits considered more common to introverts (preparation, reflection, creative, team player) and extroverts (sociable, talkative, emotional) were monitored. Each president was then subjectively assessed on a 100 point scale (0=very extroverted; 100=very introverted).
The Making of Greatness
Presidents are often a function of their time - depression, war, or in between. Some presidents have issues thrust upon them and are defined by how they respond and lead (Lincoln, FDR, George W. Bush, Hoover, Wilson) and others have no such factors (Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, LBJ, Fillmore, Harding, and many more). Many of these presidents are largely forgotten unless they have a vision of a better world and have the key traits to change the world.
Though our greatest presidents span the personality spectrum, introverts are well equipped to tackle the challenges of the office. Presidents facing global events often lean on common introverted traits of resiliency and taking counsel. Proactive visionaries benefit from the creativity and determination that are often earmarks of the introverted community.
Regardless of the events of the time, what I found was that great presidents employ three key traits - empathy, honesty, and moderation. Introvert’s reflective style often supports strength in these key areas:
Empathy: They truly care. They understand and feel the pain of the people. They are political, yet they don't place party or their personal ambitions over country and the people.
Honesty: This is somewhat relative. All presidents have an obligation to preserve confidentiality concerning foreign relations and strategies to manage conflict, yet there is a fine line toward corruption and manipulation that the best presidents don't cross.
Moderation: This is perhaps the most significant trait. Moderation helps them tap their skills, build a vision, utilize counsel, and make decisions without abusing their power. Moderation means compromising and being flexible in a complex and changing environment.
politically savvy but not corrupt or manipulative
principled but not stubborn
confident but humble
conviction yet being open-minded
decisive yet patient
All these traits have been called upon by presidents. Those that utilize each at the right time are clearly more successful than others.
Some presidents lead more quietly and with reflection and others lead with higher energy and charisma, but the best exemplify empathy, honesty, and moderation - it's their authentic self.
They understand their strengths and weaknesses. They are proud, courageous, and bold in their decision making. This is what should drive everyone and especially introverts - be authentic; know and embrace your true self. It's not introversion itself that may be keeping us down. It is our ability to find our strengths and our confidence to achieve the vision each of us has for ourselves and our family.
Ten Greatest Presidents (Introvert Score):
How many introverts are on Mt. Rushmore? Three (Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Jefferson). There are no extroverts overlooking the Black Hills of South Dakota. Washington was a perfect mixture - may be the most famous ambivert!
Franklin Roosevelt (87%)
Theodore Roosevelt (10%)
Lyndon Johnson (20%)
Those presidents that are not authentic are revealed rather quickly under the pressure of the presidency, and those who show empathy, honesty, and moderation rise to the top. The same can be said for introverts worldwide!
Few of us will ever come close to being president, but what we can learn from our nation's leaders is that empathy, honesty, and moderation is important. And that, regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert, being authentic and confident in who you are makes you a leader in your own world.
Top 10 Presidential Facts That Will Make You the Life of the Party!
10. Calvin Coolidge was such an introvert he was known as "Silent Cal." In fact, at a presidential bash one lady bet her friend she couldn't get the president to say three words to her. So her friend approached Coolidge and laughingly explained the bet. He stared right at her and sternly replied, "You lose!"
9. Two countries have their capital named after a US President - Washington DC of course, and Monrovia, Liberia which was named after James Monroe who proposed Liberia be used as a location to return African American slaves.
8. William Henry Harrison died only 32 days after a long, cold inauguration speech. Most suspected he got pneumonia, but it is actually believed a main water supply into the White House was contaminated, resulting in Harrison's death by GI infection. In fact, that same contamination is now attributed to Zachary Taylor's death in office and James Polk's after his presidency.
7. Gerald Ford was the only president never elected to national office (President or VP).
6. Robert Todd Lincoln was witness to three presidential assassinations - his father Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield at the train station, and William McKinley at the Pan-American Expo.
5. George H.W. Bush was the first VP to be elected president since Martin van Buren in 1837!
4. July 4th is a special day, but it is even more special for Calvin Coolidge who was born on the date in 1872, and more solemnly for James Monroe who died on that date in 1831. Most notorious is that rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died minutes apart on July 4, 1826, 50 years after they both signed the Declaration of Independence.
3. Franklin Roosevelt was related to 11 other presidents (5 by blood, 6 by marriage) including related presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison, James Maidson and his 2nd cousin Zachary Taylor, FDR's 5th cousin Theodore Roosevelt, along with Ulysses Grant, William Howard Taft, Martin van Buren, and even George Washington! On a side note, Zachary Taylor's daughter married Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy.
2. James Buchanan is well-recognized as the first (and perhaps only) gay president. Buchanan was a bachelor but partnered with his predecessor, Franklin Pierce's VP, William Rufus King of Alabama.
1. Which of these three men was NOT president of the US?
David Atchison, Millard Fillmore, or Leslie King, Jr.
Actually, all 3 were president. Millard Fillmore is known as the invisible president. In polls, only 8% of the public knew he was a president. David Atchison was president for a day in 1849 when Zachary Taylor refused to be inaugurated on the Sunday Sabbath. Leslie King, Jr. was the birth name of Gerald Ford, who took his step-father's name after his mother fled her abusive husband when Ford was a baby. Ford did not know about his natural father until he was 12!
Want more Presidential tidbits? I ran out of space, but you can get more analysis, insights, and fun facts. Join us at Beyond Introversion. When you subscribe, you get the full report including more little know facts about our fearless leaders!