What makes a great leader?

Dov Zakheim: Leaders tend to be people who react to situations. You can’t go around saying, “I’m a leader.” Nobody would have thought Harry Truman was a leader. In retrospect, we think he is. In fact, at the time, we didn’t think he was. Look how Dwight Eisenhower has been re-evaluated over the years as well. I think a leader, first of all, has to be well-grounded. He has to have a since of him or herself; needs to want something more than, “I want to be a leader. I want to be president.” We’ve had presidents like that – presidents who wanted to be president. Well it’s not good enough. A leader also ought to be a little more than just superficial. And mouthing slogans is great and might get you elected, but it won’t make you a leader. And finally, a leader has to be prepared to make unpopular decisions, and then know when a decision has become so unpopular that he’s gotta reverse himself . . . or herself. The sense of balance . . . You know you can lead the country, but if you lead the country over a cliff and the country doesn’t wanna go over a cliff, then you’ve gotta think twice about going over the cliff yourself.

Recorded on: 7/2/07



Zakheim, on what makes a great president.

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