The following is part of a series of On Leadership profiles exploring the best leadership traits of each of the candidates in the GOP field. Our intention is to provide a debater's argument for each of the Republican hopeful's leadership strengths rather than examine the pros and cons of his overall leadership style. Click here for a full introduction to the series and links to the other candidates’ pieces.
George W. Bush was known as the country’s first MBA president. But the man who famously and repeatedly relied on his instincts and led with “a retreat from empiricism,” as Ron Suskind wrote in a 2004 profile, was about the furthest thing from a data-driven, numbers-based leader there could be.
Even if Bush was the first president to have an MBA, Romney might be the first one to have the degree and act like it. In debates he is at home in the numbers, spouting off facts and figures with impressive ease. He doesn’t just rely on data; he revels in it. “There are answers in numbers—gold in numbers,” the candidate wrote in his book about turning around the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. “Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow.”
Romney’s pragmatic, fact-driven style attracts supporters disillusioned by Obama’s promises for change and Bush’s certainty and faith. Romney’s followers aren’t necessarily looking for grand inspiration. They’re looking for someone who can execute on solutions, even if they’re incremental ones that don’t pass every test of ideological purity. He offers a realistic and rational approach that has led to charges of flip-floppery, but that also exhibits a flexibility and adaptability that’s critical for any leader.
In a GOP primary season that has been so entirely centered on one man—the race has been defined by Mitt Romney and a rotating cast of not-Romneys—one might think that person would be someone with particularly outsized personality traits. And yet, there is Romney: No overly grand orator, but unflappable and articulate in the debates. Socially awkward, but with a composure of presence. No leader of a passionate ideological movement, but thoughtful about executing and solving problems.
In other words: His greatest leadership trait may be that he is reassuring. “Leaders who say ‘when I can do something about it, I’ll do it’ won’t capture everybody, but it does give people confidence,” says Dave Ulrich, a professor at University of Michigan’s business school who, like Romney, is Mormon, and who has written several books about leadership. Such a pragmatic style, he says, “is not exciting, it’s not dramatic. But it works.”
Jena McGregor writes the Post Leadership blog for the Washington Post.
Read more in this series: