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Roger Martin

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author, most recently, of The Design of Business. His website is www.rogerlmartin.com

Reaganesque Fortitude?

This is certainly a tough one. With the economy in tatters, Iraq a mess and his country (and the world) in a tizzy about moving on to his successor, President Bush's weaknesses seem overwhelming relative to his strengths. And it is tricky even to be able to identify with genuine confidence a single strength. But rather than go with the easy answer of "none," I will give it a try.

There are three items that I would consider leaderly strengths that would apply in each of the domains cited (political leader, world leader and CEO of federal government).

First is good humor. Through all of the messes and the dreadful, dreadful press, and all the gaffes, he has remained remarkably even-keeled. He seems even to be able to laugh at himself and keep up a reasonably upbeat disposition. This is a really important leaderly trait. Followers of any sort don't want to have to worry about their leader getting depressed or furious. They want calm decision making in the face of things that would make them nervous and emotional. In some sense, followers want their leader to make up for their own shortcomings on this front.

Second is treat people and their views differentially. The easiest thing for a person to do is to say: "I don't like your ideas, so I don't like you." Good leaders are able to like and respect people whose ideas they don't like, which is critical to maintaining good working relationships. And I think that Bush has a good capability in this area. Despite his often-controversial agenda and his low public opinion ratings, Bush was able to work with Congress reasonably well. I think that part of the reason was his ability to show genuine human warmth - or at least the absence of dislike and disgust - to those who thought exactly the opposite of him. Good leaders know that fighting ideas is more productive than fighting people.

Third and this is by far the trickiest one is fortitude. Bush has the ability to stick to unpopular initiatives which is an important leaderly capability because in a confusing and uncertain world, initiatives with a given purpose don't always produce immediately positive or encouraging results.

Often a leader has to stick to a course of action through much adversity to get to the other side. Arguably, this was a strength of President Reagan. This is a tricky assertion about President Bush for obvious reasons. On some key policy thrusts, Bush may turn out to have been absolutely wrong from the start and sticking to the initiative just went from bad to worse to worse still. That notwithstanding, it is an important strength in the repertoire of a leader.

By Roger Martin

 |  January 6, 2009; 11:46 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Treachery of Hubris | Next: Decisions Without Reflection


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This post makes good points. Bush was definitely well suited for his role from a tempermental perspective. The number one role for the chief decider though is not to be comfortable in his or her decisions, they should be right too, at least more often than not. Bush's fatal flaw was not executing his policies. All too often, it was the policies themselves that were the problem.

Posted by: trk113 | January 6, 2009 2:25 PM
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