Adams and Jefferson Leadership Traits: Which One Was the Better Leader?

Adams and Jefferson

American presidents come and go throughout history, but think about the presidents that you regard as great leaders. Regardless of their political persuasion, do historically successful presidential leaders have common natural talents and traits? 

Accomplishments Compared

More specifically, let’s compare presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson*. Both presidents were successful on many points. Here’s a brief look at their accomplishments :

John Adams

  • Massachusetts Delegate and Leading member of the Continental Congress
  • Leading advocate and signer of the Declaration of Independence
  • Author, Massachusetts Constitution
  • Diplomat to France
  • Negotiator and signor of the Paris Peace Accord ending the war with England
  • Minister to England
  • First U.S. Vice President
  • Second U.S. President
  • President of the Massachusetts Society of Arts and Sciences

Thomas Jefferson

  • Delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress
  • Author of the Declaration of Independence
  • Governor of Virginia
  • Diplomat to France and delegate to the Paris Peace Talks with Adams
  • U.S. Secretary of State
  • U.S. Vice-President
  • U.S. President (2 Terms)
  • Founder of the University of Virginia
  • Godfather of John Quincy Adams

“Interesting Fact – Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4th, 1826. Adams was 90 years old, and Jefferson was 83 years old.”

The Inevitable Comparison

For most of us in society, we tend to have a list of requirements in our minds about the traits of great leaders. Some of them would be –

  • Strong
  • Charismatic
  • Decisive
  • Bold
  • Fearless
  • Intelligent
  • Delegator
  • Great Communicator

Then, we translate those same traits into our everyday lives and assume that we must have those same traits to be an effective leader; and if you don’t have those traits, then being a leader isn’t your destiny.

Nothing could be further from the truth—we’re all leaders whether we realize it or not.

While Adams and Jefferson each had similarly noted achievements, they had very different leadership styles. Through their own personality struggles and challenges, they still found a way to achieve greatness as leaders.

Significant Leadership Trait Differences

In David McCullough’s book, John Adams, he takes an interesting, deeper look at the natural and learned traits of these leaders. Take a look at these behavioral traits and note the remarkable difference between them** –

John Adams

  • Take-Charge Personality
    • Assertive, self-assured, got results
    • Intolerant of indifference
  • Outgoing
    • A talker and entertainer
    • Passionate and good sense of humor
  • Fast-Paced
    • Controlling, Never learned to flatter
    • Cranky, impulsive, tactless
  • Spontaneous
    • Struggled with bringing order to his life
    • Had difficulty staying focused on one thing at a time

Thomas Jefferson

  • Cooperative
    • Subtle, soft-spoken
    • Moved slowly, cautious
  • Reserved
    • Remote, little sense of humor
    • Rarely revealed his inner feelings
  • Patient
    • Gracious rarely disagreed with anyone publicly
    • Avoided dispute and confrontation
  • Planned
    • Always polite, diplomatic
    • Neat, kept letter perfect records, detailed

Obviously, both leaders had their own unique set of strengths and struggles, but they worked within their traits to emerge as accomplished individuals in their own regard.

So, What’s the Point?

Where your leadership is concerned, it’s important to remember this:

  • Know your strengths and struggles, and manage them well.
  • Lead from a place of humble yet confident authenticity.
  • Balance your leadership by bringing others around you with different talents and traits.

As we remember and honor our nation’s leaders on Presidents Day this month, think about the president that relates closely to your own leadership style and be encouraged to fulfill your own leadership role in society. Please share your comments in this forum. 

*More information about the Adams and Jefferson comparison is featured in the Leading with Honor Group Training program. To learn more, go to

**Traits described in the book “John Adams” by David McCullough, © 2001 Simon & Schuster, New York


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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is the Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in team building, executive development & assessments
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His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Jim Trunick on February 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Self aware. And authentic to yourself. Adams and Jefferson great leaders

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail

  2. ENNA A. BACHELOR on February 3, 2014 at 3:44 pm

  3. Chris Saint Cyr on February 4, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    WOW Madison v Jefferson. Will you sccept it depend? They were both criminals at one time.

  4. maconsultancy on February 7, 2014 at 9:22 am