What Finance and Accounting Leaders Can Learn from Great U.S. Presidents

Ascending to the presidency of the United States takes a great amount of determination, intelligence and innovative thinking. Achieving a worthwhile legacy as the commander in chief of a nation also takes bold leadership

In celebration of Presidents’ Day this year, here are some leadership quotes from our most influential presidents. Their words of wisdom may resonate with today’s finance leaders or those aspiring to move into management.


“I never saw a pessimistic general win a battle.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower, president from 1953-1961
Eisenhower drew extensively upon his leadership as a five-star general in the U.S. Army during his tenure as president. Eisenhower knew how important it is to build morale among the troops he led — and later, the citizens he served as president. He was also a believer in action — in particular, in “acting hopefully.” Eisenhower saw optimism as infectious, especially when exhibited by those in leadership roles.


“A president's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.”— Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-1969

Ability might get you to the top in any endeavor, but character is the mark of true leadership. Leaders must be able to see the big picture and make decisions that often go against conventional wisdom or popular culture. Johnson did just that when in 1964 he signed into law some of the most sweeping civil rights laws the nation has ever seen. 


“A good leader can't get too far ahead of his followers.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), 1933-1945

Common sense tells us that people will pay more attention to example than to commands. True leaders know the struggles faced by the people they lead, because they have faced the same challenges themselves. Roosevelt brought a folksy, accessible leadership style to the White House, epitomized by his weekly radio “Fireside Chats.” FDR was both immensely popular and highly effective as president.


“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953

Truman was noted for his wry wit, and his quotes offer commonsense wisdom on leadership. This particular leadership quote, later paraphrased by President Ronald Reagan, has a two-fold meaning. First, by focusing on results — instead of on credit or on the limelight — you’ll actually get results. Secondly, you’re more likely to get people to help you accomplish what you want when they know their efforts will be appreciated.

Hard work

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again ... and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909

Last but not least, we have one of Teddy Roosevelt’s leadership quotes. Roosevelt knew a thing or two about hard work. He overcame a sickly childhood through strenuous physical exercise. As president, he was a bold, charismatic and enthusiastic leader who defied the conventions of the day. Roosevelt was among the first presidents to champion U.S. leadership on the world stage, and was also the president under whose leadership our national park system began.

Do you have a favorite president – or presidential leadership quote? We invite you to enter it in the forum below.