Given the emerging role of the United states in the mid 20th century world affairs what evaluation can be made of the leadership styles of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy that made...

Given the emerging role of the United states in the mid 20th century world affairs what evaluation can be made of the leadership styles of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy that made them effective or inhibited them?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one distinct statement that can be made about the leadership styles of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy is that they embraced an approach for their time that enhanced their effectiveness.  Both leaders crafted a vision of leadership that facilitated their agendas.  Any judgment about their ineffectiveness would come from a reflective frame of reference.  At the time, both leaders were seen as effective because they understood their particular context and developed agendas that reflected it.

President Eisenhower understood that he led the nation at a time of unprecedented economic growth.  Economic expansion had filtered into so many areas of American life.  Eisenhower recognized that this condition of wealth would make Americans receptive towards a political agenda that favored less governmental intervention from a domestic point of view.  Eisenhower's leadership was one that encouraged Americans to generate wealth and develop a sense of economic growth in their own life.  His leadership style encouraged this, not wishing to generate a sense of anxiety given the conditions of racial and gender prejudice which were present in American life.  Eisenhower's leadership style approached the rising condition of Communism as one that America was morally poised against.  At the same time, his policy of Containment was one where Americans could still feel relatively comfortable in what they were doing and in the lives they were leading.  Eisenhower did not embroil the nation in foreign conflicts, primarily because he understood that doing so would take away from the comfort of domestic economic growth that defined his tenure as President.  Framing international conflicts as a collision between "Godliness" and "atheism" helped to reaffirm that the path Americans were on was the right one.  Economic growth and enhancement of the "American Dream" became a significant part of the way in which Americans approached purpose and meaning.  Eisenhower's leadership style embraced and encouraged such pursuits.

In a similar manner, President Kennedy's leadership style embraced the time in which he led.  President Kennedy understood the spirit of change that had marked his administration.  A youthful approach, evident in he and his wife being the leaders of a new "Camelot" helped to frame a domestic and foreign policy that embraced a "new American frontier."  President Kennedy insisted on the power of change and transformation as a part of American identity.  This condition of change was critical to President Kennedy's leadership style.  It became the reason why President Kennedy was able to claim to advocate Civil Rights legislation as a part of his administration.  It became the reason why he encouraged intervention in South East Asia.  President Kennedy's leadership style was one that framed his policy initiatives.  The paradigm of change and transformation helped to encourage advancements in foreign policy that increased American intervention in other parts of the world.  The result of this alignment between the contextual conditions that encouraged an aggressive leadership style was public support, something that both Kennedy and Eisenhower experienced in their times as Presidents.

Both Kennedy and Eisenhower were able to experience success in their world affairs agendas because such actions reflected the conditions in which they led. For both leaders, their vision of the time period in which they led the country framed their agenda for world leadership.  Certainly, historical reflection can see where there were significant inhibitions in such approaches.  President Eisenhower's emphasis on growth and economic expansion helped to develop what he himself termed as "the military industrial complex" towards the end of his leadership.  President Kennedy did not live long enough to see the disastrous results of sending "military advisors" to Vietnam.  Both leaders embraced a foreign policy agenda that was aligned to their vision of leadership. While very successful at that moment, and a path that enabled both of them to experience widespread public support, it was clear that something more might have been needed in order to navigate the challenging world stage that existed after they left office.

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