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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Unanswered Questions

George W. Bush's strengths as a leader are clearest in the realm of politics. He got people to vote for him because of his affable personality and the beliefs he espoused. His agreeable, warm temperament combined with a stubborn will convinced voters that he would be strong and decisive, someone who wouldn't quit. This combination was highlighted in his campaign against John Kerry who was successfully defined by the Bush team as an aloof flip-flopper.

Bush is also skilled at marketing himself. He labeled himself a "compassionate conservative" and up to a point was able to convince many independent voters that this vague concept explained his policies. At the same time, he was also able to identify himself strongly with a base that combined religious conservatives with free market, anti-regulation conservatives. His strengths were never in the details of policy, but in embracing big ideas and selling them. Bob Woodward aptly described him as the "cheerleader" for policies crafted by others on his team.

As a world leader, his amiability, accessibility and sincere beliefs served him well in gaining support from Tony Blair and for a time, even with Vladimir Putin. But the world soured on his imperious leadership, his disastrous war in Iraq, his rejection of international attempts to protect the environment, and his apparent contempt for international organizations such as the UN and the World Court. The arrogance of his administration, in sharp contrast to his promise as a candidate to show humility in foreign relations, lost him credibility in world opinion.

As chief executive, his strengths were collaboration with his closest associates, a willingness to delegate and an ability to demand and gain loyalty, even devotion from his appointees. The weakness was that he valued loyalty over competence and ended up with some inept subordinates and flawed advice.

In the end, Bush's strengths brought him fleeting gains, but we are not yet able to fully evaluate the costs of his actions. What we do know is that the principles he championed have contributed to our staggering financial and political problems. He argued for a radical free market and financial deregulation. But our economy is now in shambles due to to recklessly leveraged borrowing and deregulated finance.

Bush stood for democracy and safety from terrorism. But his preemptive war, extra-legal surveillance and interrogations involving torture have tarnished our positive image as a beacon of democracy and freedom, replacing it in the eyes of many with the image of a hypocritical bully. Did all these security measures really make us safer, as Bush and Cheney argue? Or did they provoke even greater threats to our long-term safety?

Note: This posting was co-authored with Max Maccoby.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  January 6, 2009; 11:05 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Optimism, Persistence and Loyalty | Next: It Didn't Have to End This Way


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TimS. writes that history can change every 100 years. Brilliant. He adds insult to ignorance by measuring cost of vietnam war in lives favorably comparing to Iraq and name-blames 2 democratic presidents overseeing half the deaths. Omitting the acclaimed republican, Nixon presiding over the other 30,000 dead.

It must suck to have to shape your goofy opinions around half-truths and fudgey facts.

Posted by: JohnRoseOPASTCO | January 9, 2009 10:13 PM
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How smug and patronizing you all sound. It must be nice to be so smart! What will history see? It is always hard to predict; and it can change every hundred years! If Bush turns out to have succeeded in turning Iraq into a democracy, at a cost of 4000 american lives; as compared to Kennedy and Johnson, who spent 58,000 lives and failed to turn Viet Nam into one, it may view him very favorably. Or maybe, as time goes on, democracy won't even be a respected goal, or numbers of lives sacrificed, won't even matter. We'll have to see!

Posted by: timsiepel | January 9, 2009 8:40 PM
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It appears the Mr. M is adept and stating the obvious.

Posted by: m1k3F | January 9, 2009 8:39 PM
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