The first presidential debate isn’t until Oct. 3, but CBS’ 60 Minutes had a version of their own last night with dueling interviews of Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. After lengthier interviews about their policies and principles, Romney and Obama were each separately asked the same four questions about the topic of leadership. Below, with paraphrased versions of the two interviewers’ questions, are the candidates’ full responses, as pulled from the 60 Minutes transcript. Below you can read their answers as well as my take on how they did, in bold:
60 Minutes: What are the essential qualities of a leader?
Romney: Well, a leader has to have the capacity to build trust in the people he or she works with. People have to look at that person and say, “I may disagree with them. But I know where they stand. And I can trust them.” A leader has the capacity of vision, the ability to see where things are headed before people in general see those things. That vision is typically a product, in part not just of their skill and brilliance, but even more their experience, their life experience. And so if you're looking for a leader to guide an economy, you hope that you have someone who didn't just study it in school, but someone who's actually lived in the economy.
Obama: Well, you know, I think that leadership more than anything is about setting a course and describing a vision for people. And you know, in the history of leadership in this country that vision isn't always realized immediately. You know, Abraham Lincoln understood that we were a single union. And it took a bloody Civil War and terrible hardship and sacrifice to achieve that vision. And that vision wasn't even fully realized until after he was gone. What I try to do is to constantly present a vision of America in which everybody's got a shot, everybody's treated with respect and dignity in which the divides of race and faith, gender, sexual orientation, that those are not the determining factors, in terms of whether people succeed but instead it's how hard you work and are you trustworthy and are you responsible and you — do you look after your family and do you love people and love this country?
Advantage: Pretty even. Both are right that “vision” is the No. 1 quality of a leader, even if they use it to reinforce the messages of their campaigns (in Romney’s case, his executive experience; in Obama’s, the need for patience). The rest of their answers drive home campaign mantras, too—trust for Romney and fairness for Obama—that are also hard-to-argue-with good leadership traits.
60 Minutes: The historian, David McCullough, says that great presidents learn from the history of the office. What have you learned from the history of presidents in the White House?
Romney: You know, I enjoy reading David McCullough's writings. My favorite book is perhaps of a biographical nature, was his book on John Adams, a person who had extraordinary character, a relationship with his spouse who may have been even brighter than he. We don't know as much about her as we do about him. But a man who had a very clear sense of direction, who helped guide the process of writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He wrote the Constitution of my state of Massachusetts. And, we saw in him an individual who was less concerned about public opinion than he was about doing what he thought was right for the country. And even though he was defeated in his run for reelection, he did what he thought was right for America. And I respect that kind of character.