Presidential Leadership Scholars gather at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas

How to Lead with Empathy

Reflections from the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program Session 2

By Mike Hemphill, Director of Academic Programming at the Clinton Foundation and Catherine Jaynes, Director of Evaluation and Research at the Bush Institute and Co-Academic Directors for the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

The 2017 Class of Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) reconvened at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, TX last week. Our 60 participants spent an extended weekend learning from members of President Bush’s administration, leadership experts, alumni of the program, and each other as they further honed their approach to leadership.

Leaders must educate, inform, and guide . . . they must lead through inclusiveness and listening.” — Secretary Bob Gates

During our six-month program, the Scholars visit the Bush Library in College Station, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, the Bush Center in Dallas and the LBJ Library in Austin. At each stop, the Scholars learn how each President effectively used strategic partnerships, vision and communication, decision-making and persuasion and influence. We also take a deeper dive into one of these leadership characteristics at each Center. At the Bush Library we took a closer look at strategic partnerships.

“We can all choose to be better leaders and people.” — Senator Rob Portman

Clearly, the highlight of our stay was having President and Mrs. Bush join us for the Thursday afternoon session with former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Secretary Gates described President Bush as a man of integrity, self-discipline and courage. A theme that emerged during the weekend is that President Bush didn’t strategically manage his relationships with others, rather he authentically valued the contributions of everyone and had a capacity for empathy that is unequaled in the eyes of those who worked with him.

“People knew they were in the presence of someone who cared about them . . . people knew that he genuinely cared about them.” — Constance Berry Newman
President George Bush made a surprise visit during the Presidential Leadership Scholars’ classroom session at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

Here’s a recap:

Secretary Robert Gates participated in a classroom discussion with Presidential Leadership Scholars at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
  • Secretary Gates recounted his experiences in the Bush administration and engaged in a lengthy Q&A session with the Scholars. He reinforced the mission of the PLS program by challenging the Scholars to be leaders who are inclusive and listen.
Presidential Leadership Scholars were joined by Secretary Andrew Card, Timothy McBride and Constance Berry Newman for a classroom discussion at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas
  • The Scholars also heard from former Director of the Office of Personnel Management Constance Berry Newman, former Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card, and President Bush’s former private secretary Tim McBride. Each recounted their experiences in the Bush White House, focusing their comments on the President’s compassion, humility and perseverance in connecting with others.
“The ability to understand where others are coming from is critical to being a successful leader. Rather than looking for an either/or solution, look for a both/and solution, and then share the results rather than claiming them as your own” — Secretary Andrew Card
Secretary Andrew Card, Timothy McBride and Constance Berry Newman take questions from Scholars at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas
  • Senator Rob Portman, R-O.H., former associate White House Counsel and director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs in the Bush administration, met with the Scholars and spoke on how the character development and moral achievement necessary to be a principled leader are things in reach for all of us.
Senator Rob Portman participated in a classroom discussion with Presidential Leadership Scholars at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
  • Dr. Paul Almeida, Professor of Strategy and International Business at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business led the Scholars through an exercise that revealed the essential characteristics of strategic collaboration.
“Collaboration is hard and it’s difficult. Alliances should be part of your overall strategy.” — Dr. Paul Almeida
Dr. Paul Almeida guides Scholars through an an exercise on strategic partnerships at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas
  • A major emphasis of the program is the development of the Scholars’ Personal Leadership Projects, all designed to have a positive impact on the social good. On Saturday morning, we were joined by 10 PLS alumni who facilitated table-top discussions with the Scholars about their projects. The Scholars left the session with the challenge to test the assumptions they are making about their projects.
Scholars work on their Personal Leadership Projects during working sessions at The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas

Our objective is to inspire this growing network of motivated leaders who are committed to making the world a better place. This session at the Bush Library helped them see the value of engaging others who have differing perspectives on the challenging issues that face us.

Our thanks to David Jones, CEO of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, and his staff for making our stay in College Station a memorable one. Next stop — the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.


To learn more about the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, visit www.presidentialleadershipscholars.org. For updates about the Presidential Leadership Scholars, use #PLScholars or follow @PLSprogram on Twitter.