Traits of Success Based on Reading dozens of Presidential Biographies

Business & entrepreneurship

I’ve recently been attempting to read a biography of every United States President.  While like any country, we’ve had both good and bad leaders, it can’t be denied that each of these men have reached the pinnacle of their profession.  While being raised with “blue blood” and a lot of money helps (as does marrying well), there are still some lessons commoners such as myself can take from these CEO’s of politics.

Rising Early

Want to emulate the success of U.S. Presidents?  You can start by waking up while it’s still dark outside.

It seems like almost every biography I read about a President mentions how they: “Always rose early and often had more work done by lunch than most people would accomplish all day.”

Although Mark Twain once famously refuted this belief when he said:  ”Therefore, how is a man to grow healthier, and wealthier, and wiser by going to bed early and getting up early, when he fails to accomplish these things even when he does not go to bed at all?”  It appears that the majority of great achievers get an early start each morning.

Like Twain, this is not good news for me.  I am a natural night-owl, and remember even as a kid preferring to stay up late.

President Truman was known to be up by 5:30 a.m., each morning.  George Washington was also known to be an early bird.  This is not surprising due to each men’s background in farming.  Benjamin Franklin–although not a former president–was perhaps one of the biggest proponents of early rising, however, and he was a printer/writer.  You would think that if there is anyone who likely would prefer a late schedule it’s a writer/printer.

It appears that waking up early is a key to success in business/life.  I wish this wasn’t the case but it appears to be true.  It must allow you to focus more time during the morning/afternoon when work is being done and less time wasted at night when personal pursuits are more commonly pursued.  (such as watching television).

Dress the Part

Another, perhaps less surprising trait of great achievers is their placing a high importance on how they dress/appear.  As I am currently learning from the George Washington biography I am currently reading, Washington sometimes perhaps cared more about appearance than even the skill or ability of his men.  Besides being almost obsessed with his own appearance, he had a height requirement of “between 5-8 and 5-10? for his secret guard.  In other words, he sought guards who were very tall for the time–but not quite as tall as he.

President Truman, who prior to his presidency owned a haberdashery  boutique, was also often described as a “sharp dresser.”  One wonders if he would have achieved half of the political success that he did if he didn’t strive to “look the part.”

Take Risks

Most of the best presidents were daring.  Teddy Roosevelt moved by himself to North Dakota to try and start a ranch.  The ranch ended up being a failure but later pursuits proved more fruitful.  Most of the presidents have moved between private and public sector work.


Wake up early, take risks, and try to dress well—fair or not, those seem to be three reoccurring themes, and I suppose it makes sense: one has to wake up early enough to find time to “dress for success.”   Although these are pretty standard pieces of advice, I did find it interesting how they played such a large role in most of the president’s lives and personal success.

What are some other reoccurring traits of success?


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