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Paul R. Portney
Dean/Scholar

Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney is Dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Halle Chair in Leadership.

The Most Natural Impulse

Like it or not (some will and some won't), politicians do have to reveal and incorporate into their governing part of their personal life and history.

First and foremost, getting elected these days requires the revelation of more personal information than ever before. (That said, we do not answer to questions about "boxers or briefs.") Voters want to like, not just respect, their leaders; this requires politicians to reveal parts of themselves they might prefer to keep private. While some may bristle at this fact ("What is this, a popularity contest?!"), it's the most natural impulse in the world on the voters' part.

Second, the more we know about our leaders' personal histories, the better are our guesses about how they might respond to particular challenges or how their backgrounds shape important policies. Someone who has struggled his or her way out of abject poverty is likely to react differently on certain issues than someone born to privilege, for example.

But it's not always clear just how. Some politicians and business leaders who are self-made think everyone ought to be able to boost themselves up. Some who had the proverbial silver spoon have become the strongest champions of social programs in government or minority assistance in corporate philanthropy. And the more we know about their past, the better are our predictions about future behavior.

But some discretion, please. Someone who can talk about nothing but himself won't get too far.

By Paul R. Portney

 |  June 8, 2009; 10:22 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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