Paper: Richard Nixon as Leader

This was the final paper for my Leadership in Management course. Unfortunately, it was the last assignment due in my college career (and due at 8am the day after Clinic presentations), and it did not get the attention it should have…


Richard Nixon was one of the most deeply flawed men to ever be called President of the United States. His name shall live in infamy alongside that of Watergate, and students will learn that he was the first —and only — President to resign from office, leaving behind an unelected Vice President to be the President of the United States.

Yet despite these flaws, Richard Nixon was somehow elected as Vice President of the United States under Eisenhower — twice. He was elected as President — twice — after a defeat to Kennedy in 1960. These victories suggest Nixon did have something about himself.  He was a true leader, though sometimes a poor one.

Nixon’s Effectiveness


It is almost impossible to deny Nixon’s effectiveness as President. His domestic and foreign achievements were diverse and full, though not without controversy. The man proposed legislation as unusual as universal health coverage and successfully took the United States dollar off the gold standard. Controversial then, this forever changed the Bretton Woods system and made US Dollars the default reserve currency for the world.

Perhaps most oddly, Nixon made use of Congressionally-delegated power to mandate wage and price controls over broad sections of the economy. He declared himself a Keynesian and his controls were broadly popular during their first implementation, but much less so when re-implemented during his second term. In totality, “Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal.”


Through delicate diplomacy, Nixon successfully aligned China and the United States against the Soviet Union, in a move which is often credited with softening Soviet positions on a range of issues and allowing easier withdrawal from Vietnam.

Perhaps most significant, Nixon détente with the Soviet Union. In the successful Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the United States and Russia agreed to limit their nuclear weapons and development with the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and an Interim Agreement on strategic offensive arms.

As a Leader

Nixon was a long-term strategic thinker. He began to plan in his own mind a visit to China while Vice President, and developed theories on his own both as an active politician and in time off, writing Six Crises. Nixon felt that vision was “knowledge of the past directed toward the future.” Yet he was also paranoid, speaking of the domestic Communist Conspiracy and forever believing that the press was out to get him personally.


It became clear that Nixon had no idea about Watergate (and probably knew nothing of the related activities) until after the incident occurred. But once it did, he actively conspired to cover it up. This was partly a failure of management; for his followers had gotten him into this mess by conducting illegal raids. But mostly, it was a failure of morality. Nixon himself claimed his actions in the coverup were an attempt to help friends. Somehow, as President of the United States, he thought that helping his friends was more important than maintaining the integrity of the United States government. As such, it was a failure not just of Nixon, but of all his followers — the entire United States.

Yet at the same time, there was little evidence prior to the Watergate scandal that Nixon was a particularly amoral man. He had worked in government for decades, and in his public life his legislative agenda was highly moral. Nixon was re-elected because his first term had been a smashing success as far as anyone could tell; it included détente with the Soviets, an apparently successful economic policy, and implemented widespread school desegregation.

But this does not mean we cannot improve, to try and prevent another Watergate. As followers, we can and should be vigilant to keep our representatives honest, expecting nothing less than the highest level of honesty. And indeed, simply through the country’s reaction to Watergate we have improved the situation somewhat: leaders know that if caught in such situations, they can expect impeachment at the least.


Frost, Sir David. Frost/Nixon. 2007. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.

Humes, James C. Nixon’s Ten Commandments of Statecraft. 1997. Scribner, New York, NY.

MacMillan, Margaret. Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World. 2007. Random House, New York, NY.

Nixon, Richard M. Six Crises. 1962. Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY.

Nixon, Richard (January 30, 1974). “Address on the State of the Union Delivered Before a Joint Session of the Congress”. The American Presidency Project.

Parmet, Herbert S. Richard M Nixon: An American Enigma. 2008. Pearson, New York, NY.

Yergin, Daniel and Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights, 1997, pp. 60-64.