By Tessa Berenson
September 8, 2014

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush unveiled a new leadership training program in Washington today. Clinton said the initiative will encourage Americans to “have vigorous debate, serious disagreements, knock-down, drag-out fights, and somehow come to ultimately a resolution that enables the country to keep moving forward.”

“We want people from all walks of life and different political persuasions,” Bush said. “We want people who have shown the capacity to succeed. People who work hard, and who work with others in a good way.”

The six-month training program, which will begin in February 2015, will be stewarded by Clinton and Bush, as well as former President George H. W. Bush. and the library of Lyndon B. Johnson. It will employ lectures, discussions and case studies from these four presidents’ terms to teach core leadership skills. Joshua Bolten, Bush’s former chief of staff, called the effort “the first collaboration ever among presidential centers in an ongoing initiative.”

Clinton stressed the importance of assembling a diverse class of future leaders, especially in today’s political climate. “I’d like to get some people from dramatically different backgrounds together with the charge to come up with something they can do together,” he said. “There’s a skill that is beginning to atrophy in America, which is listening to people who disagree with us.”

Though the two former presidents, both of whom are 68, are from opposite parties, they traded good-natured jabs and jokes about the life of ex-presidents. With mock seriousness, Bush kept touting the upcoming November release date of his book about his relationship with his father – which he described as “a love story.” This later prompted Clinton, who has become famously close to Bush Sr. in recent years, to say, “I learned a lot from him too, but I’m not making any money off it.”

George H. W. Bush wasn’t at the event, but he sent a letter from Kennebunkport, Maine, read by Bolten, that gently mocked both his son and Clinton: “Every former president is different. And that’s as it should be. For example, not all of us skydive. That’s not a judgmental comment, just a fact.” (The former president celebrated his 90th birthday this year by skydiving.)

Bolten began a question to the younger Bush by noting that he had no opportunity to attend a leadership training program when he was growing up. “Yea there was,” Bush cut in. “George H. W. Bush.”

Bolten’s final question of the morning was to Bush, asking him to give Clinton advice for becoming a grandfather (Chelsea Clinton is due to give birth this fall). “Be prepared to fall completely in love again,” Bush counseled. “…And get ready also to be, like, the lowest person in the pecking order in your family.”

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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