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Adams & Jefferson Leadership Traits

Michael Roman - Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

American presidents come and go throughout history, but think about the presidents that you regard as great leaders. Regardless of their political persuasion, do historically successful presidential leaders have common natural talents and traits? 

More specifically, let’s compare presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson*. Both presidents were successful on many points. Here’s a brief look at their accomplishments

John Adams

- Massachusetts Delegate and Leading member of the Continental Congress

- Leading advocate and signer of the Declaration of Independence

- Author, Massachusetts Constitution

- Diplomat to France

- Negotiator and signor of the Paris Peace Accord ending the war with England

- Minister to England

- First U.S. Vice President

- Second U.S. President

- President of the Massachusetts Society of Arts and Sciences

Thomas Jefferson

- Delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress

- Author of the Declaration of Independence

- Governor of Virginia

- Diplomat to France and delegate to the Paris Peace Talks with Adams

- U.S. Secretary of State

- U.S. Vice-President

- U.S. President (2 Terms)

- Founder of the University of Virginia

- Godfather of John Quincy Adams

For most of us in society, we tend to have a list of requirements in our minds about the traits of great leaders. Some of them would be –

- Strong

- Charismatic

- Decisive

- Bold

- Fearless

- Intelligent

- Delegator

- Great Communicator

Then, we translate those same traits into our everyday lives and assume that we must have those same traits to be an effective leader; and if you don’t have those traits, then being a leader isn’t your destiny. Nothing could be further from the truth—we’re all leaders whether we realize it or not.

While Adams and Jefferson each had similar noted achievements, they had very different leadership styles. Through their own personality struggles and challenges, they still found a way to achieve greatness as leaders.

Take a look at these behavioral traits and note the remarkable difference between them**  

John Adams

- Take Charge Personality

Assertive, self-assured, got results

Intolerant of indifference

- Outgoing

A talker and entertainer

Passionate and good sense of humor

- Fast-Paced

Controlling, Never learned to flatter

Cranky, impulsive, tactless

- Spontaneous

Struggled with bringing order to his life

Had difficulty staying  focused on one thing at a time

Thomas Jefferson

- Cooperative

Subtle, soft-spoken

Moved slowly, cautious

- Reserved

Remote, little sense of humor

Rarely revealed his inner feelings

- Patient

Gracious, rarely disagreed with anyone publicly

Avoided dispute and confrontation

- Planned

Always polite, diplomatic

Neat, kept letter perfect records, detailed

Obviously, both leaders had their own unique set of strengths and struggles, but they worked within their traits to emerge as accomplished individuals in their own regard.  

So, what’s the point where your leadership is concerned?

- Know your strengths and struggles, and manage them well

- Lead from a place of humble yet confident authenticity,

- Balance your leadership by bringing others around you with different talent and traits.  

As we remember and honor our nation’s leaders on Presidents Day this month, think about the president that relates closely to your own leadership style and be encouraged to fulfill your own leadership role in society.  

Interesting Fact – Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4th, 1826. Adams was 90 years old, and Jefferson was 83 years old.

About Lee Ellis

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on networks such as CNN, C-Span, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. His latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at

*More information about the Adams and Jefferson comparison is featured in the Leading with Honor Group Training program. To learn more, go to

**Traits described in the book “John Adams” by David McCullough, © 2001 Simon & Schuster, New York


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