Presidential Thinking Capacity: Brilliant or Incompetent? Comparing Presidents Ronald Reagan and Joe Biden

March 27, 2021 Updated: March 27, 2021

America desperately needs an ultra-smart president—an individual who securely possesses both the thinking capacity and adaptable personality to come to grips with accelerating and unpredictable changes and problems in complex, often chaotic, turbulent environments.

A brilliant president will know how to spontaneously think and tackle—verbally, quantitatively, and spatially—to get the most out of emergent trends, resolve seemingly intractable contradictions, discern insight from perplexity, and lead in designing unifying futures through a strong moral character with decisiveness and direction. A smart “president” should be “wired-in” to idea spaces “between-the-lines” of our uncertain times and with nimbleness, connectivity, inventiveness, and courage to come up with new ideas rather than hoping that answers will fortuitously arrive from partisan directives.

With accelerated processing capacities for three-dimensional thinking, our “bright president” would be able to grasp competing and conflicting ideas and integrate important pieces in his mind at once. He would openly debate and quickly resolve irrelevant ideology—the “thorny” problems that come with the job and decisively craft superior global frameworks with character, keen insight, and shared direction. In truth, he will welcome complex and challenging problems because he believes that better insights will come more wisely through the crush of opposing views from both sides of the aisle.

After years of international executive consulting and leadership research, our consulting firm was invited to assess past U.S. presidents with our five-dimensional “brightness” criteria. We found few presidents among the last eight who could demonstrate extraordinary problem-solving ability loaded with moral character and spatial intelligence. Our research affirmed that strong spatial capacity is the single best predictor of leadership success, i.e., insight, plasticity, and directionality. An individual with strong spatial intelligence is thereby able to capture and hold multi-dimensional streams of consciousness required in higher levels of intellectual complexity. Few U.S. presidents were considered “brilliant”—able to view their linear world “spatially” with unseen multiple options and frameworks. Those few were like exceptional Superbowl quarterbacks, able to take a backfield vantage point with unfolding dynamic systems and simultaneously perceive in spatial combinations of height, width, and depth that directed them to smartly execute with insight, decisiveness, direction, and speed.

Highly effective executives, especially U.S. presidents, must have a unique balance of good leadership skills, adaptable personality and style, and capacity to think about issues from three-dimensional perspectives with moral integrity. They will pursue and encourage personal feedback that may reveal an error in their judgment, their personal biases and limitations, and their actions, and then make appropriate changes for the better.

5 POWERS OF EXECUTIVE THINKING CAPACITY

A meta-analysis of our extensive data on brilliant executive thinkers formulated the following five-dimensional capacities for brilliance.” An assessment brief, a 12-item instrument, calibrated with a 10-point scale (1 = lowest, 10 = highest) for each item as follows:

Verbal Height Processing ___

  1. Exercises strong reading and writing, listening, and effective speaking capabilities.
  2. Organizes information and knowledge in a linear, sequential, step-by-step order/fashion.

Quantitative Width Processing ___

  1. Uses symbolic, quantitative, numerical information to tackle and solve problems and to make informed decisions.
  2. Analyzes possibilities by means of symbols and numbers that come to mind through quantitative investigation/analysis.

Spatial Depth Processing ___

  1. Visualizes multiple perspectives/initiatives holistically, not just in words and numbers, but with pictures and visualization.
  2. Three-dimensionally synthesizes several conflicting ideas and options simultaneously and creates a whole new integrated idea/option/invention.

Global Decisiveness: Insight, Direction, and Speed ___

  1. Evaluates quickly and acts decisively with confidence on challenging opportunities to innovate, change, and improve.
  2. Conceives sound, rapid directives in an atmosphere of increasing time pressures, uncertainty, conflicting advice, and crisis.
  3. Formulates intuitive, novel, inspiring solutions/directions and insightfully moves team/organization to a higher place, function, and direction.

Character Capacity: Integrity and Authenticity ___

  1. Personifies goodness through humility, honesty, authenticity, integrity, and wisdom.
  2. Sustains the self-confidence, dignity, self-esteem, and positive growth of others.
  3. Navigates with a moral compass that inspires and sets a “true north” direction that others can trust and follow.

We contend that these five “bright” thinking dimensions or powers must be operative for brilliance to be manifested in any U.S. president.

Recently, then-President-elect Joe Biden was assessed and profiled using historians and political scientists on our five dimensions of executive thinking (10-point scale). Results were compared back-to-back with President Ronald Reagan, who was clearly identified as the most brilliant and highest performer of nine presidents evaluated. Profile means for both presidents were determined as such:

President Ronald Reagan:

Verbal Height = 9

Quantitative Width = 8

Spatial Depth = 8

Global Decisiveness = 9

Character-Capacity = 9

President Joe Biden:

Verbal Height = 7

Quantitative Width = 5

Spatial Depth = 3

Global Decisiveness = 5

Character-Capacity = 5

A comparative assessment of the two presidents uncovered the following:

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan graduated (1932) with honors from Eureka College with a major in economics and sociology. Only 4 out of 100 high school graduates completed college during his time. He played football, was captain of the swim team, did acting, and, as a young leader, was student-body president. He was active in more than one thing at a time with a photographic memory and keen leadership skills.

On April 19, 1942, Reagan, after scoring a very high score on the Officer Candidate Exam, was recruited into active duty as a military officer. Subsequently, he became a striking chair of the Actors Guild, and a brilliant thinker as a California governor and then U.S. president.

Reagan aptly processed all five thinking capacities to create extraordinary depth, global decisiveness, direction, and spatial speed with moral integrity in helping to make this country strong and respected again. His unique ability to mentally visualize, invent, construct, and deconstruct and masterfully communicate was especially noted with key national and international initiatives—something critically needed in our nation’s leadership to sustain our future lead and prosperity.

Reagan had a rare capacity to think spatially, to create, to perform, and to improve on the conventional status quo. His mental “visual-spatial” ability was a real phenomenon, i.e., able to hold the world visually in his mind the way a sailor or pilot navigates the large spatial world.

As president, Reagan was very good at processing and synthesizing several competing ideas or options simultaneously and creating a new integrated picture or solution. President Reagan brought together very gifted executives to assist him. He would invariably ask them to describe their mental imagery and ideas for future improvements. This all translated into his people processing ideas faster and initiating together.

Uniquely, Reagan, as an extraordinary leader, possessed the character, integrity, and honesty that came with his humility, authenticity, and wisdom. He sustained self-confidence, dignity, and positive growth in all that worked with him. The fact that he was able to overcome the stigma that leadership was once about hard skills such as planning, finance, and business analysis is amazing to me. He constantly was able to see things and bring things together to stimulate creative conversation and vigorous debate.

Reagan knew how to prioritize and focus his leadership as a result of moral convictions. To repeat, he exemplified all of the spatial capacities to be a true “brilliant” leader. More amazing is the fact that Reagan navigated with a “moral-goodness” compass that inspired and set directions that all could trust and follow.

President Reagan did more to touch the hearts and minds of millions of Americans than any other U.S. president in history.

Joe Biden

Historically, Joe Biden spent two years in the third grade after being determined below-average intelligence. His college grades and class standing were barely passing. He finished near the bottom of his law school class and admitted to plagiarism and received an F in a particular class for doing so.

Interestingly, Biden as a vice president was seen as another hard-left socialist, elusive, intractable, sequential-linear thinking leader—unable to free himself from improbable thought-streams and unworkable party politics. Mark Levin used to call Biden “the dumbest man in the U.S. Senate.”

Biden is neither clever nor smart. He left a 47-year political legacy of insignificant and non-notable accomplishments. He garnered a reputation of dishonesty and deception—of making stupid and insane remarks or gaffes. Vice President Biden appeared to be unable to globally visualize and process in a way that allowed him to fluidly move from different starting points, change direction as needed (neuro-plasticity), and spontaneously generate many creative, probable, long-term doable solutions. President Barack Obama was equally lacking.

In terms of being a leader, there are notated reports on Joe Biden’s diminishing qualities of smallness of character, infantile pettiness, and just old-fashioned meanness.

President Biden came to the presidency with a thinking capacity that is clearly lacking, exclusive, and rigid with frustration relative to his inability to control his own Democratic Party and heal our fractured country. With advancing age, there is a question of senility wherewith he often doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. We should expect to witness his failure to synthesize creative ideas to advance plausible proposals to sustain our nation’s lead and prosperity. Much will be beyond his competence and confidence as it was with President Obama to think through and deal with the complexity of the job.

The unspoken with many political observers is reflective of an “incompetent factor” primarily focusing on promoting socialism and government totalitarianism. President Biden will be like an NFL quarterback who continues to be directed by “side-line” coaches, frequently sacked in the backfield and throwing interceptions when pass-receivers are spatially open in the end zone, ready to receive and score touchdowns. With diminished capacity for spatial processing and moral-character strength, President Biden will be known, at best, as a “puppet president” for the Democratic Party.

All should not be lost. We live in a scientific world where the neuroscience of spatial thinking, creativity, and inventiveness can now be developed with visual-information processing technology, which can significantly enhance the way any of us could and should process our world more intelligently.

We can historically respect our former president who was wired to take a tougher approach against the CCP, creatively igniting needed changes, improvements, and innovations to move our nation forward around its founders’ principles. He was able to mentally digest competing information, massage and distill it down to the most relevant and substantive elements, while simultaneously evaluating inconsistencies in thinking and actions of those around him in the political arena. He will be comparatively missed by many of us.

Dr. Morris Graham heads a Honolulu-based, international executive development firm specializing in executive capacity-building.  He is the author of “Executive Thinking: from Brightness to Brilliance.” Comments are welcome: morrisangusgraham@gmail.com