One Outstanding Leadership Trait Three of America’s Greatest Presidents All Shared

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George Washington

With men and officers being shot down in every direction, George Washington rode forward to take charge of the collapsing lines at the Battle of Monongahela. While riding along the ranks looking to calm his men, Washington had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes shot through his coat.

At the Battle of Princeton, Washington lead the charge in a successful counter-attack against the British. At one point Washington was no more than 30 yards from the British line and was an easy target for snipers. Despite the pleas from those around him to find cover, Washington stood tall surveying the battle field and encouraging his troops to stand their ground.

After a series of disastrous defeats in New York and New Jersey, the Continental Army seemed near extinction. Washington did not fold. He took his troops across the icy Delaware River on December 25, 1776, ambushing the Persian-led British militia, sending shock waves across America and Europe. His fearlessness bolstered American morale and renewed their faith in him and the cause.

With the Revolution once again on the brink of defeat in early 1781, Washington embarked on a risky march south to surround and attack General Cornwallis’ British army at Yorktown, Virginia, which proved to be the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War.

Abraham Lincoln

Fearlessness and failure are strange bedfellows. Before becoming president, Lincoln lost five separate elections, losing his first race for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832, followed by a failed bid for the U.S. Congress, two races for the U.S. Senate, and one campaign for a vice-presidential nomination. He never wavered, however. By 1858 he was a national player in the new Republican Party, eventually winning the presidency in 1860.

As president, Lincoln led America through one of its darkest periods, the Civil War. When Fort Sumter was attacked, Lincoln did not hesitate to fight back. It would be the start of a long four years for President Lincoln and our country. Throughout the war he bitterly fought with his own cabinet, who challenged him and derided him on every decision.

At the Battle of Fort Stevens, President Lincoln actually came under Confederate fire, making him the second and last sitting president to be in such a position. At 6’4” Lincoln was an easy target.

The Emancipation Proclamation issued on New Year’s Day, 1863, freed all of the slaves in the rebellious states. It was not met with universal support, however. Many American citizens were still undecided on the issue of slavery. Despite the inevitable turmoil it caused and against the wishes of many in his own cabinet, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.


John F. Kennedy received the Navy’s highest honor for bravery for his heroic actions as a gunboat pilot during World War II on this day in 1944. The future president also received a Purple Heart for wounds received during battle. In July 1943 Kennedy and the crew of PT 109 were ordered into combat near the Solomon Islands. In the middle of the night on August 2, their boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and caught fire. Several of Kennedy’s shipmates were blown overboard into a sea of burning oil. Kennedy dove in to rescue three of the crew and in the process swallowed some of the toxic mixture (Kennedy would later blame this for chronic stomach problems). Kennedy and the other good swimmers placed the injured on a makeshift raft, and then took turns pushing and towing the raft four miles to safety on a nearby island. For six days, Kennedy and his crew waited on the island for rescue. On August 8, a Navy patrol boat picked up the haggard survivors.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev secretly deployed nuclear-armed missiles inside Cuba, only 90 miles from the United States. When President Kennedy became aware of the Soviet Cuba missiles, he ultimately ordered a naval quarantine around Cuba and he demanded that Khrushchev remove all the missiles. Kennedy would not allow any more Soviet ships to reach the island. For 13 days in October 1962, the world held its breath. No one knew if Khrushchev would send his ships across the quarantine line. He didn’t. Khrushchev stood down and eventually removed all of the nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Each of these presidents personified one of the qualities that is critical to being a great leader – fearlessness. In my five year study of the daily habits of 177 self-made millionaires, fearlessness was the common thread that bound each one of these millionaires together. Successful people are fearless. They take on risks that would put the average Joe in full retreat. They tackle big obstacles and big problems that others believe are impossible to overcome or foolhardy to even attempt. They stare adversity in it eyes and keep fighting until they succeed.

Seventy-six percent of the wealthy in my study came from poor or middle-class backgrounds. Many experienced failure. In fact, 27% failed at least once in business. Sixty-Four percent fanatically pursued one singular goal for as long as thirty-two years before realizing success. They were fearless in their pursuit of success. They believed in what they were doing and saw their cause as their main purpose in life. Their fearlessness became a force field repelling doubt. Fearless leaders don’t quit when the going gets tough and, in fact, fight harder when their backs are against the wall and failure appears immanent.

If you want to succeed in life you must adopt the fearlessness habit. One of the strategies self-made millionaires use to ward off doubt and is a boot to the throat of fear is the What-If Game. The What If Game is like battery acid, melting away doubt, fear, anxiety and worry. In his book Think Like a Champion (, Donald Trump explains how he developed the habit of being fearless, which is on full display in his Presidential run. When Trump is considering a new project, he confesses in his book that those voices of fear come charging in like an army. Many of the voices come from inside his head, but many of them also come from individuals who work with Trump. In the early phases of pursuing a new project, these voices warn him of all sorts of potential dangers. When he was in the evaluation phase of what became his award winning TV show, The Apprentice, Trump was confronted with fear, urging him to stop:

  • The show might fail.
  • If the show is a flop, it will damage the Trump brand
  • It will distract me from my current business. My core businesses would suffer financially.
  • The show could turn people against me?
  • I might hate doing the show?

But Trump played the What If Game:

  • What if the show is a success?
  • What if the show helps improve my brand?
  • What if I love doing the show?
  • What if it helps me make more money?
  • What if it helps me find apprentices who are outstanding and can add value to my business?
  • What if millions of people around the world fall in love with me and my Trump organization?

The What If Game stops fear in its tracks and replaces it with courage and optimism. It defuses all of the doubts and uncertainties you face when pursuing something worthwhile. It immediately changes the way you think. It gives you courage to move forward. The next time you are faced with a difficult decision, play the What If Game. Don’t give in to fear. Fear stops you in your tracks and will prevent you from realizing your potential for unlimited success.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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