As best I can, I’m trying to keep my ideology and policy preferences out of this analysis. Instead, the focus is on what we have learned about leadership from longtime students of the subject such as Warren Bennis, Bill George, Mike Useem, Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Howard Gardiner, Mike Maccoby and Marty Linsky, many of whom are regular contributors to The Post’s On Leadership Web site.
From them, we know that the essential elements of successful leadership are authenticity and truthfulness, an unwavering set of core values, strong personal ethics, a passion for a larger purpose outside of yourself, the ability to communicate an inspiring vision, empathy and emotional intelligence, persistence, self-discipline and a boldness that sometimes borders on narcissism.
What leadership — particularly political leadership — is not is managerial competence, the ability to analyze a problem and manage people and processes in order to solve it. Starting a highly profitable private-equity firm and rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics are significant achievements, but they are not necessarily evidence of great leadership. These were successes in which the priorities and parameters were essentially set by others, in environments in which Romney could exercise a considerable degree of top-down control.
Indeed, when he tried to bring his CEO skill-set to governing Massachusetts, Romney quickly discovered the difference between the things he could accomplish on his own authority and those that required changing the political environment or working with legislators or interest groups that were not inclined to take direction. It was largely out of frustration with the latter that he decided, only two years into his first term, to turn his focus from governing the state to running for president. And by the time he left office, his approval rating among Bay State voters had slipped below 40 percent and has been falling ever since.
Which brings us to the even bigger problem of Romney’s stunning lack of authenticity.
This manifests itself in the contrast between the socially awkward man we see in public and the funny, charming man attested to by friends and family.
It manifests itself in the contrast between the incredible generosity and care he has taken with people who he knows or meets in person and the striking insensitivity he shows to nameless, faceless people he has laid off from companies he first stripped of their equity, or longtime immigrants he proposes to deport en masse, or people who are poor and sick that he is willing to demonize before letting slip through the economic safety net.