In challenging times, these presidents leaned on common introverted traits like determination, taking counsel, and creative problem-solving.
Can an introvert be president? Do extroverts make better ones? What traits are critical to the success of the U.S. commander-in-chief?
Introverts tend to prefer small groups of people and relish time alone — so can they succeed in such an outgoing, demanding role, especially in the less sophisticated eras of the past?
Undoubtedly — yes.
Introverts make some of the best leaders, especially since they’re known for their excellent listening skills and usually think things through before they speak. And, during today’s Introvert Revolution, introverts worldwide are embracing who they are, proving anything is possible.
As an amateur historian and ardent introvert, I’ve compiled an apolitical list of past presidents (through #44), taking into consideration their Introvert Rating and Greatness Score:
- Their Introvert Rating is my assessment of personality traits through research on each president, based on The Washington Post‘s 2016 Presidential podcast. 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).
- I based their Greatness Score on independent rankings based on the Boise State Political Science 2018 Survey. I also considered research from The Siena College Research Institute’s 2018 Presidential Expert Poll.
The Top 5 U.S. Presidents Who Were Introverts
These five U.S. presidents scored the highest on the Introvert Rating:
1. Gerald Ford (93% Introvert; 47% Greatness)
Despite assuming the presidency in very difficult times, Ford appeared to place country over party, as well as his own personal ambitions. He seemed principled, empathetic, humble, transparent, and selfless in his actions. Many would say Ford was driven to do the right thing … and this is what may have cost him the election after two years.
2. Harry S. Truman (92% Introvert; 75% Greatness)
Often viewed as an underdog, Harry S. Truman followed nearly four terms by Franklin D. Roosevelt, but seemed to boldly set his own agenda in the face of the end of World War II and beginning of the Cold War. Research shows that Truman was an avid learner, very humble, and valued a very small (but loyal) group of confidantes.
He was also known to be patient, yet decisive, and 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.
3. Jimmy Carter (91% Introvert; 45% Greatness)
Jimmy Carter was known as a smart, passionate, and humble president and his modest upbringing seemed to shape his politics. Determined, yet quiet, I think his inability to motivate the nation, rectify the economy, and the Iran hostage crisis opened the door for a much stronger personality to step in: Ronald Reagan.
4. Abraham Lincoln (90% Introvert; 95% Greatness)
In the most challenging of circumstances, unlike his many predecessors, Abraham Lincoln stood on principle to address the issues that were tearing the nation apart, namely slavery. Some accounts say he was humble, yet socially awkward, and he was actually not well-liked during his presidency.
He seemed resilient, yet principled, during the long Civil War, and journaled often, perhaps to help vent and process issues, becoming a great orator through practice and determination.
5. Franklin D. Roosevelt (87% Introvert; 89% Greatness)
When you think about Franklin D. Roosevelt, a serious and self-confident man may come to mind. His polio affliction marked his personal struggle and drove his relationships with people; he became patient, persistent, and resilient.
He was also a visionary through times of recovery, such as the Great Depression and WWII. According to historians, he appeared calm and personable while optimistic and transparent.
The Top 5 U.S. Presidents Who Were Extroverts
These five U.S. presidents scored the lowest on the Introvert Rating:
1. Theodore Roosevelt (10% Introvert; 81% Greatness)
Theodore Roosevelt was an “unstoppable ball of energy,” according to William Allen White, a renowned newspaper editor. He seemed to love being a leader, as well as being the focus of attention, craving adventure, and relishing the power that came with the job.
I think his energy and optimism lifted the nation out of its post-Civil War doldrums and that his progressive ideals played a role in this, too. He was said to have been principled, passionate, and persuasive both as president and an explorer, such as when he joined the “Rough Riders” in Cuba.
2. John Adams (19% Introvert; 63% Greatness)
John Adams was considered quite the socialite; he was tactless and often emotionally out of control. Yet research shows that his honesty and courage helped to progress the ideals George Washington had modeled.
3. Lyndon B. Johnson (20% Introvert; 69% Greatness)
Historians say Lyndon B. Johnson was bigger than the room; he was considered cruel, hard, and 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 and civil rights reform.
4. Andrew Jackson (23% Introvert; 62% Greatness)
Sources say Jackson was a charismatic networker, yet that he was also a cold, often violent, egotist. He was more apt to challenge and fight than to listen or compromise; he led the American Frontier Wars without empathy or regret. Jackson ushered in a new era of political campaigning that reset the tone for centuries.
5. Bill Clinton (25% Introvert; 64% Greatness)
Bill Clinton was very charming and often sought affirmation from people. He promoted a particular persona as a listener, though that may have been largely for his own benefit. He was often considered “authentically phony” in order to benefit his personal and political agenda. He was a great speaker and his ability to compromise led to many legislative accomplishments.
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3 Presidents Who May Have Been Ambiverts
These three presidents scored right in the middle on the Introvert Rating, so perhaps they were ambiverts, having some introvert qualities and some extrovert qualities.
1. George Washington (50% Introvert; 93% Greatness)
George Washington utilized his resiliency, courage, humility, and charisma to convert chaos to success, both on the battlefield and as the first president. I think he was brilliant in considering how to translate the Constitution into practice and balance his reflective nature — which tends to be common among introverts — with his ability to engage others.
2. George W. Bush (49% Introvert; 40% Greatness)
George W. Bush seemed to live life to the fullest — no nonsense; charming, yet disciplined. It seems as though he tried to pair compassion with conservatism. At a macro level, Bush managed with delegation, trust, and empowering his VP … perhaps too much, some critics say.
3. James Garfield (52% Introvert; 37% Greatness)
James Garfield was shot after only 100 days in office and died two months later. Many believe he could have been a great president — he was brilliant, outgoing, and full of life and vigor. Garfield was a politically savvy, warm, gregarious, and principled reformer.
The Making of Greatness: How Introvert Traits Help Presidents Excel
Though our greatest presidents span the personality spectrum, I believe introverts are well-equipped to tackle the challenges of the office. For example, presidents facing global events often lean on common introverted traits of determination, resiliency, taking counsel, and coming up with creative solutions to problems.
Regardless of the events of the time, what I found was that great presidents employ three key traits: empathy, honesty, and moderation. Often, an introvert’s reflective style supports strength in these areas.
- Empathy. They truly care, and this makes them better understand and feel the pain of the people. They are political, yet they don’t place their personal ambitions over the country and its people.
- Honesty. This is somewhat relative, yet a common trait among introverts. All presidents have an obligation to preserve confidentiality concerning foreign relations and strategies to manage conflict, yet there is a fine line between corruption and manipulation that the best presidents don’t cross.
- Moderation. In my opinion, this is the most significant trait of the three. Moderation helps presidents tap into their skills, build a vision, utilize counsel, and make decisions — all without abusing their power. Plus, introverts often value following a routine, so fitting all their responsibilities in probably comes naturally to introverted presidents. Moderation can also mean compromising and being flexible in a complex and changing environment, as well as being politically savvy, but not corrupt, being principled, but not stubborn, and being confident, yet humble.
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