Lessons in Leadership from Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela and More

Pollster Stanley Greenberg speaks with U.S. News about his latest book.

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What role do you think public opinion has for the modern leader? And in what ways might this role be detrimental?

Leaders who build a special bond, a relationship with people, are actually stronger leaders for that. And that helped Bill Clinton through his economic plan at the outset. It also helped him get through great difficulties at the end of his term. It obviously set the stage for Barack Obama being able to make changes. But in between, you have George Bush and Dick Cheney, who say public opinion doesn't matter. I'm not proposing [leaders put their] finger to the wind. But if you don't work on bringing people with you, you don't build that relationship, then you're failing as a leader. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, the two leaders we think of as the boldest and who may have accomplished the most for the country, and two leaders that Barack Obama draws on for inspiration, both were deeply immersed with public opinion, with bringing people with them. Particularly Lincoln. He was trying to keep the Union together, so he was solicitous of public opinion in order to get through the war with a country that was united. You know, public opinion matters. Sometimes you align with public opinion; sometimes you try to educate; sometimes you try to persuade. But the fact that people matter in your leadership is unique about democracy, and it is unique about our strong presidents and leaders.