Leadership

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush say successful leaders have these 4 qualities

Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at an event launching the Presidential Leadership Scholars program in 2014.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at an event launching the Presidential Leadership Scholars program in 2014.

After all their years in office, former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have some words of advice for the leaders of tomorrow.

To celebrate the third class of Presidential Leadership Scholars, a non-partisan, all-expenses-covered program for leadership skill development, Bush and Clinton discussed the importance of humility and demonstrating a strong character, among other topics.

In a conversation moderated by American philanthropist David Rubenstein, Bush and Clinton spoke not only about the intricacies and challenges that came with being presidents, but also the moments that influenced their lives as politicians.

Here are the four qualities Bush and Clinton say make a strong leader:

They're open to different points of view

What bothers Clinton about the United States today, he says, is how people continue to contain themselves in like-minded communities.

That's why he says keeping an open mind is so important: "The thing [these scholars] get most out of being with each other is being with one another," Clinton says, referring to the program's deep emphasis on uniting leaders from diverse backgrounds.

"We may be less racist, homophobic and sexist, but we don't want to be around very many people who disagree with us normally and we get news in silos," Clinton says. "The truth is in an interdependent, complex world, diverse groups make better decisions than homogeneous ones and so these people would make better decisions."

They 'begin with the end in mind'

"I also think you have to begin with the end in mind. That is, you have to say, 'Yeah, you got to win the election, but why in the heck are you running?'" Clinton says.

Clinton thanks his family for his positive view on life and for helping him succeed politically. He recalls his great uncle teaching him the importance of listening to people's stories.

"People are inherently interesting if they can get out of their own ways, so I was taught to listen and to look," Clinton says. "I always thought I would have a better life if I could have somebody else have a better life too."

They demonstrate strong character

Bush notes that despite campaigning against the Clinton Administration, he personally always focused more on what the two had in common: They were both Baby Boomers, southern governors and had shared mutual friends, for starters.

"There was a natural ability to respect and like each other," Bush says. "Therefore, if you disagree with someone, [it] doesn't mean you don't like him."

After Clinton's defeat of George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election, they managed to establish a good relationship thanks to Clinton's character, Bush says.

"I think dad was willing to rise above the political contest," Bush says. "In other words, it starts with the individual's character, and both men, in my judgment, displayed a strong character and therefore their friendship was able to be formed."

They're always humble

If you want to be a president, Clinton says humility is key.

"I think the most important thing is to be humble, to listen, to realize everybody's got a story," Clinton says. "You want to be able to say, 'People are better off when I quit, kids had a better future and things were coming together.' You don't want to say, 'God, look at all the people I beat, all the people I walked over.'"

Bush also mentions humility as the most important quality for somebody who wants to be president: "I think it's really important to know what you don't know and listen to people who do know what you don't know," he says.

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