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The Year in Review: Presidential Leadership Scholars

Article by Bush Institute December 29, 2015 //   6 minute read

2015 marked the inaugural class of Presidential Leadership Scholars, a joint effort by the Presidential Centers of George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson, focused on various facets of leadership skills.

The first class of 60 Scholars gathered in February at George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the program’s Opening Session. In its first weekend, the class heard from featured speakers including Michael Beschloss, Presidential Historian; Denver Brunsman Ph.D., George Washington Historian; David Ferriero, The Archivist of the United States; and Robert M. Gates Ph.D., Former Secretary of Defense; as well as experts like Scott Snook, a faculty member at the Harvard Business School and an honors graduate from West Point, on the role of vision and execution in successful leadership.

Over the course of several months, the class traveled to each participating Presidential Center to learn from former Presidents, key administration officials, and leading academics. The class visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock in March. President Clinton gave remarks and took questions in an intimate visit with the Scholars. The class also heard from Governor Asa Hutchinson, 46th Governor of Arkansas. Sessions at the Clinton Presidential Center were focused on vision and communication and the class learned about the process of writing the State of the Union address. They heard from Clinton administration officials including Gene Sperling, Former Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Bruce Reed, Former Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Minyon Moore, Former Assistant to the President, Former Director of White House Political Affairs, and Former Director of White House Public Liaison,  Rodney Slater, Former Secretary of Transportation, James Lee Witt, Former Director of FEMA, Don Baer, Former Director of Strategic Planning and Communications/Chief Speech Writer , Alexis Herman, Former Secretary of Labor and experts including Terry Pearce.

In April, the Scholars convened at the Bush Center for a three-day session on decision-making, as seen through the lens of the 2008 financial crisis. Over the course of the weekend, they met with former President George W. Bush, Mrs. Bush, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, and former Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the U.S. National Economic Council Keith Hennessey. Leigh Thompson, Ph.D., from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, served as lead faculty during the session. They discussed the history of the 2008 financial crisis, examined leadership models and methods, and applied lessons learned from Presidential leadership to their own leadership skill-building.

Next, Scholars traveled to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, where they participated in a three-day session on influence and persuasion and looked at the Voting Rights Act during the Johnson Presidency. They heard from speakers Taylor Branch, author; Ben Barnes, Founder and Principle, Ben Barnes Group, LP; Nicole Covert, granddaughter of President and Mrs. Johnson; and Mark Updegrove, Director, LBJ Presidential Library. Johnson Administration alumni Jim Jones and Larry Temple also joined. During this module, scholars visited the LBJ Ranch also known as the ‘Western White House’, where they had the chance to see the place that President and Lady Bird Johnson so deeply loved and hear about how it shaped President Johnson approach to the presidency. 

In June, Scholars met at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas to study coalition building, and they used the case study of German Reunification. Featured speakers included: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Dean and Executive Professor, The Bush School of Government and Public Service; and Jeff Engel, Director, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University. Former Secretary of State James Baker and Governor John Sununu, former Governor of New Hampshire and Chief of Staff to President Bush, were just two of many Bush Administration officials who spoke to Scholars.

The inaugural class graduated in July at the Bush Center in Dallas, where both President George W. Bush and President Clinton made remarks and congratulated Scholars. Mark Cuban was featured during The Moody Foundation conversation at the ceremony and gave Scholars advice, and Scholar Jake Harriman was selected by his peers to introduce both Presidents.

As part of the curriculum, each Scholar was required to develop a personal leadership project.  A summary of each  project was present on the Bush Institute blog throughout the week of graduation.

Applications for the second class were submitted and finalists were selected at the end of 2015. Stay tuned in 2016 for the next class announcement!