7 great moments in presidential relationship-building

By Haylin Belay
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The Brief
We believe in the power of personal relationships to make big things happen—and not just in your business. This President’s Day, we’re celebrating our nation’s leaders with a look back on some of the greatest moments of presidential diplomacy, negotiation, and peace-making throughout history.
president's day

1.       President Thomas Jefferson: The Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson’s famous purchase from Napoleon’s France would not have been possible without his careful leveraging of relationships. To diffuse tension between their bickering nations, Jefferson sent a French nobleman and expatriate to sway Napoleon away from conflict, helping ensure America’s acquisition of a swath of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.

2.      President Martin Van Buren: The Peggy Eaton Affair
Though he wasn’t president at the time, Van Buren’s political maneuvering during this society scandal cemented his relationship with President Jackson and secured him the vice presidency and, later, the Oval Office itself. How did Van Buren pull off such a feat? Simple—by according attention to personal stories in an emotionally charged workplace crisis.

3.      President Harry S. Truman: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Originally negotiated by President Harry Truman as a united and economically fortified front against the postwar threat of spreading communism, NATO today is a 28-nation alliance securing economic and political ties across the northern hemisphere. Power in numbers, indeed.

“Originally negotiated by President Harry Truman, NATO today is a  28-nation alliance securing ties across the northern hemisphere.”

4.      President John F. Kennedy: The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Talk about a tough sell. At the height of the Cold War, the U.S., the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom agreed to restrictions on nuclear weapon testing in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater. While the treaty itself was not successful on all counts, it was a tremendous win for President Kennedy, whose emotional 1963 commencement speech at American University was a key factor in influencing Soviet opinion.

5.      President Bill Clinton: Clinton & Yeltsin
President Clinton’s relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin was famously chummy—and that friendly personal relationship translated into eighteen successful meetings over seven years, in spite of Russia and America’s often-conflicting interests. Though they frequently disagreed politically and professionally, they were able to work through these differences thanks to the shared respect (and humor!) between them.

6.      President Barack Obama: US-China Climate Accord
In the global fight against climate change, an agreement between the U.S. and China—the world’s top two carbon pollution offenders—was critical. Agreement seemed impossible, but after nearly a year of negotiations and a personal letter from President Obama to President Xi Jinping suggesting a collaborative effort, the U.S. and China announced that they had come to a common ground.

7.      President Barack Obama: Rapprochement with Cuba
We had to give President Obama another one here. He ended 2014—and ends this list—with a one-two punch of seemingly impossible diplomatic achievements. After decades of failed attempts by dissidents, activists and Congressmen to lift the bans on trade and travel, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that 35 years of icy relations between their nations was coming to an end. Time will tell what these changes mean, but for now, they’re a critical bridge over some truly troubled waters.

Haylin Belay is a freelance writer and blogger based in New York City. She is a frequent contributor to the RelSci blog.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.

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