Is being an entrepreneur good preparation for being president of the United States? Considering that Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and Warren G. Harding are among the few U.S. presidents who previously succeeded as business owners, the answer seems to be no. But while the lessons of entrepreneurship don’t always translate to a successful presidency, many of our past presidents have important lessons to teach us about business.
George Washington: Focus on fiscal responsibility.
Washington was an innovative farmer who bred horses and owned a distillery. Perhaps it was his business background that gave him the sense of fiscal responsibility he carried into the presidency. Before stepping down as president, he worked with Alexander Hamilton to establish a national bank and gradually help the United States get out of the debt it incurred to other nations during past wars. According to First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His—and the Nation’s—Prosperity, Washington knew the young nation needed to be on solid financial footing in order to succeed.
The Takeaway: Keep a close eye on your cash flow.
Related Article: Cash Management for Small Business
Abraham Lincoln: Surround yourself with people of different viewpoints.
“We are not enemies, but friends.”
After being elected president, Lincoln promptly appointed some of his fiercest rivals to his cabinet. He wasn’t just seeking to keep them under his control: He wanted to hear their opinions, and he listened to their advice. Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin has said that Lincoln recognized the importance of surrounding oneself with those who have not only different opinions, but also different temperaments. He knew that a country needs the best people to lead it—whether those people were his supporters or his rivals was secondary. Of course, listening to different opinions didn’t mean Lincoln always followed his advisors’ advice. For example, his cabinet spent a long time debating whether to abolish slavery. Ultimately, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation despite their advice.
The Takeaway: No, you don't want yes-men.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Be a leader.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Taking office during the Great Depression and leading the nation through World War II, Roosevelt faced one of the most challenging administrations of any president. Yet he was elected for four terms because he understood the importance of leadership. Throughout many ups and downs, Roosevelt remained steadfastly calm, strong and optimistic. His Fireside Chats projected strength and eased the fears of a frightened nation. If Roosevelt was worried, he never showed it—in fact, he worked hard to hide any signs of weakness. Although he used a wheelchair as a result of having polio, public appearances and photos were carefully staged to hide his disability.
The Takeaway: Never let ’em see you sweat.
Related Article: Leadership Traits that Small Business Owners Should Possess
John F. Kennedy: Tap into the power of new marketing tools.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Presidential elections have long relied on slogans and slander, but in 1960 there was a new tool in town: television. The first televised presidential debate was held in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy. You’ve probably seen footage of the smooth, smiling and attractive Kennedy crushing the sweaty, nervous Nixon. In fact, the visuals were so persuasive that the more than 70 million TV viewers overwhelmingly saw Kennedy as the winner—even though radio listeners generally thought it was a draw, or even that Nixon did better. Kennedy wasn’t afraid to use this new media and marketing channel to his advantage.
The Takeaway: Maybe it’s time for you to start marketing on Instagram after all.
Related Article: 5 Easy Tips for Getting Your Business Started on Instagram
Happy Presidents’ Day! Are there any business lessons you’ve learned from our nation’s leaders?
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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