Mitt Romney’s Leadership Style





11-2-12

Andrew M. Obritsch received his B.A. from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, in 2011. He is currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Eastern Illinois University.

Aubrey Immelman received his Ph.D. from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 1991. He is currently an associate professor of psychology at St. John’s University in Collegeville and the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN.


Credit: Flickr/Jason Luong

On paper, Mitt Romney is an attractive candidate. He looks “presidential,” is well financed, and has a strong track record in business and government. However, despite MBA and law degrees from Harvard, a successful career as a management consultant and venture capitalist, president and CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics Organizing Committee, governor of Massachusetts, and chair of the Republican Governors’ Association, questions remain: What are the personal qualities that shape Romney’s leadership style? What kind of president would Romney make? How would Romney deal with adversity?

While the Republican platform and Romney’s policy positions and campaign promises provide a point of departure for inferring many of the specifics of a prospective Romney administration, they do not provide a comprehensive basis for anticipating the more intangible aspects of a Romney presidency. Fortunately, political psychology provides the tools for answering those more elusive questions.

A psychological profile of Romney, developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict during Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, reveals that the Republican nominee is primarily a Conscientious-dutiful personality, complemented by secondary Dominant–asserting, Ambitious–confident, and Accommodating–cooperative features and a minor Retiring–reserved tendency, yielding a political personality best described as a dutiful conformist.

Romney’s personality profile provides a stable framework for anticipating his likely leadership style as president, if elected. Leaders with his profile are characteristically prudent, proper, dignified, dependable, and more principled than other leadership types. Highly organized, with a strong work ethic and careful attention to detail, this presidential style is the epitome of competence in crafting public policy and a deliberative approach to problem solving in the Oval Office. Following is a political-psychological prognostication of a prospective Romney presidency.

Conscientious leaders commonly keep themselves thoroughly informed, exhibit depth of comprehension, are able to visualize alternatives and weigh the implications and long-term consequences of their decisions, and are cautious in their actions. With Romney at the helm, history is unlikely to repeat itself with a foreign policy fiasco such as the futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that marred the presidency of George W. Bush.

But personality can be a double-edged sword. On the downside, conscientious leaders such as Romney, who thrive in a corporate setting, may flounder in a political environment where executive power is constrained by divided government. This happens because the political Achilles’ heel of highly conscientious leaders is a stiff, wooden demeanor and an inherent difficulty in conveying a likable persona. In other words, they lack the retail political skills required to consummate their policy objectives.

As a highly conscientious, “dutiful conformist,” the following generalized expectancies regarding Romney’s likely leadership style as president can be inferred from his personality profile:

 

  • Motivation for leading. Conscientious leaders tend to be guided by pragmatism rather than ideology. They tend to centralize power in the executive branch as a way of preventing matters from spinning out of control. Because of their structured, somewhat pedestrian cognitive style, they are wary of new or untested ideas, rendering them averse to ideologically driven proposals and more inclined to a pragmatic approach to politics.
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  • Investment in job performance. Because of their strong work ethic, attention to detail, and managerial competence, the leadership style of conscientious leaders pivots around the need for productivity in the form of policy implementation.
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  • Staff management strategy. Predominantly conscientious leaders are more predisposed to act as strong advocates for their proposals than to seek consensus.
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  • Information management strategy. Given conscientious leaders’ penchant for overcontrol, orderliness and perfection, they are likely to exhibit a high degree of involvement in managing information as a way of protecting themselves from potential error. At the same time, their respect for order and hierarchy tends to find expression in a preference for obtaining information internally from administration officials and advisers rather than from independent sources, resulting in a relatively closed decision-making process.
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  • Media and public relations. Because of their strong sense of duty, conscientious leaders are likely to behave in a reasonably open, relatively cooperative manner with the media, though in a somewhat distant, formal manner. Conscientious leaders derive little satisfaction from relating to the public, which leads them to delegate this aspect of governing to proxies and senior officials, who are likely to play a prominent role in articulating and defending policies.
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    Perhaps not surprising for someone with Romney’s academic and professional credentials, he emerged from the assessment as a highly conscientiousness personality. What is notable, however, is that in an era of “made-for-television” elections, no presidential candidate with conscientiousness as his most prominent trait has been elected president; a primarily conscientious personality has not occupied the Oval Office since Jimmy Carter, and before him Herbert Hoover and Woodrow Wilson. In fact, the list of conscientious presidential nominees in recent elections cycles reads like an exclusive club of losing candidates, including Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, and Al Gore.

    Psychological assessment is not a panacea for prognosticating every possible contingency during a president’s tenure, and “strong situations” -- such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 -- can totally eclipse the influence of personality; however, accurate personality assessment nonetheless serves as a useful tool for anticipating the general tenor of a prospective presidency.

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