Georgetown McDonough School of Business professors Paul Almeida, Brooks Holtom, and Michael O’Leary are working with the U.S. Presidential Centers for Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush to lead scholarly lessons on leadership.

In 2013, the presidential centers reached out to Almeida, senior associate dean of executive education and professor of strategy, and O’Leary, teaching professor of management, about leading the academic design of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, which features an innovative curriculum focused on four leadership skill areas: vision and communication, decision-making, persuasion and influence, and coalition-building.  

“Each of these Presidents have dealt with challenges and leadership decisions that few others have”, said Paul Almeida. “There are lessons for all of us  in the leadership experience of these four Presidents and it is important for all of us, including the current Presidential candidates,  to learn from the actions, successes and failures of our former Presidents.”

Most recently, Almeida and Holtom drew from their scholarly research to teach classes on the topic of strategic partnerships for 60 Presidential Scholars at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center. President H. W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush attended the module, which included sessions conducted by members of the president’s administration. The module centered around forming and using alliances, an area in which the professors say Bush excelled. Bush often used well-crafted letters to build relationships within the United States and with international allies, and he used these relationships to create coalitions to pass important legislation (e.g. Clean Air Act and Americans with Disabilities Act)  and for critical foreign policy initiatives (e.g. Operation Desert Storm, German Reunification).

Almeida, whose research explores the use of formal and informal partnerships within and across organizations and their effects on innovation and strategy, stressed the importance of authentic, trust-based partnerships.

“Long-lasting, successful  alliances do not succeed because of legal contracts,” he said. “They are built from deep-rooted, well-nurtured relationships, both within and external to an organization. Even at the inter-organization level, partnerships are social entities and their success depends, in part, on building  trusting relationships.”

Almeida also warns against seeking partnerships of convenience, sharing that "Alliances are not an end in themselves, they are tools that need to be skillfully employed. They work best when the parties bring to bear complementary capabilities but have aligned visions and values.”     

Holtom, associate professor of management, examined strategic partnerships from a more individual or community level, addressing the importance of a personal network.

“Networking is not collecting business cards,” he said. “Network power is obtained when someone will return your call or thinks of positive attributes when they hear your name.”

Holtom’s research finds that people with stronger internal relationships are more embedded to that community and less likely to leave -- an important insight for anyone leading an organization or alliance.    

Almeida and Holtom pointed out that all four past presidents employed strategic partnerships extensively to lead successfully. “All four presidents included in the PLS program shared a willingness to talk and communicate with people," said Holtom. “The best negotiators seek joint value. They find a win for their side and for the other. After all, in a world that is getting smaller, we are increasingly interdependent.”

Regardless of  political party, the next U.S. president will need to build and leverage partnerships and should, therefore, learn from the experiences of these past leaders, they said. “The building of trust that lies at the core of successful partnerships must begin during the campaign, not just once the presidency begins," Almeida said.