The GOP candidates’ best leadership traits

January 12, 2012

By this stage of the GOP race, when the votes start tumbling in and the lesser players start tumbling out, we have read most of what there is to know about the six men—and they are indeed now all men—who aim to become the Republican nominee. We’ve read about their political successes and failures. We’ve learned about their families and their backgrounds. We know the quirky tidbits of their lives: Rick Santorum briefly lobbied for the World Wrestling Federation. Ron Paul doesn’t wear his seat belt. Newt Gingrich has an odd fascination with zoos.

But we’ve read much less about their leadership styles—not just what they hope to accomplish as chief executive of the United States, but how they will go about doing it. This is not a peculiarity of the early primary season. It is a symptom of the way we look at the presidency at large. As Fred Greenstein, a professor emeritus at Princeton University, wrote in his book The Presidential Difference: Leadership Styles from FDR to Clinton , every president has been the subject of an inundation of prose, but “that outpouring is directed to the ends the president sought rather than the means he used to advance them.” Judging by the ink spilled on past presidents, Greenstein writes, we care much more about “the merits of his policies rather than the attributes that shaped his leadership.”

With that in mind, we at On Leadership decided to engage in a little thought experiment. Maybe it’s the abundance of debates this primary season, but we too decided to put on our debater’s hat and make the leadership case for each of the GOP candidates. Read the pieces in this series:

• Ron Paul’s best leadership trait
• Rick Santorum’s best leadership trait
• Newt Gingrich’s best leadership trait
• Mitt Romney’s best leadership trait
• Rick Perry’s best leadership trait
• Jon Huntsman’s best leadership trait

Naturally, all of the candidates also have faults and weaknesses that will affect their fit for the most important leadership job in the world. But rather than look at the pros and cons of each leader’s style, this is an exercise in examining the individual leadership strengths that have compelled their supporters to follow them thus far—and that may bring them all the way to the White House.

Depending on your political and world views, you may think some of the candidates are just the kind of ideal chief executive this country needs, or you might wonder if any in the pack are fit to run a local convenience store. But whether you agree with them or not—and even if they don’t all hold the full suite of leadership traits needed to be an effective president—each of them has captured voters’ interest and donors’ dollars, and managed to get to this milestone in the campaign thanks to certain unique leadership traits.

Jena McGregor writes the Post Leadership blog for the Washington Post.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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