Obama & Romney: different leadership mindsets

With Drath (2001) we distinguish three mindsets, which also can be linked to different times and situations. Leaders can be ‘ego-dominant’ and hold on to a vertical perspective. These leaders want obedience and loyalty. They believe they have special gifts or talents. Other leaders see themselves as influencers. They are still responsible, but take others into account. They want to emancipate their followers and are collaborative. A third option is leadership as dialogue. Leaders no longer accept sole accountability and strive for partnership and shared sense-making.

These beliefs have consequences and when a new president is to be elected it is worthwhile to check their leadership assumptions. What did we learn from the acceptance speeches from Mitt Romney and Barack Obama? I did a simple word count on the words “I”, “We” and “You” of their speeches* and came to the following result:

Romney Obama
“I”, “Me”, “My”, “Mine” 88 77
“We”, “Us”, “Our(s)” 113 135
“You”, “Your(s)” 62 73
Total # words in speeches 4133 4168

Both leaders needed the same amount of words to accept their nomination. Both talk about “me”, “you” and “us”, the three core elements of leadership. But it seems as if Romney has a more dyadic concept of leadership. He associates leadership more with individuals: “My family, my country, my presidency…I have a plan…” and “You deserved it… you work hard… you want…” His wife was even more clear about his individualistic leadership thinking: “This is a man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say cannot be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair, this is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard.” This fits the republican message about freedom and individual responsibility.

Obama stands for a more inclusive, collective leadership mindset: “It’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation…” He’s more concerned about the common ground. “But we also believe in something called citizenship. We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together….We leave no one behind.  We pull each other up.” And certainly for international politics he stands more for collaboration and dialogue: “Around the world, we’ve strengthened old alliances and forged new coalitions.”

Speeches are what they are: attempts to forge a collective identity for as many voters as possible. They can not be confused with leadership action and leadership results. On the other hand, “it’s through language that we create our world, because it’s nothing until we describe it.”** Language defines not only who we are, but also who the others are.

Any comment?

* These counts are based on the transcripts of their speeches by Foxnews:

** Jaworski, J. (1998). Synchronicity, the inner path of leadership. San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, p. 178.


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 8. Development & mindset, Comments & events, English and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Obama & Romney: different leadership mindsets

  1. Kim Maes says:

    Really nice analysis on the leadership style and ontheir communication style. It confirms with the feeling I got when Obama was elected the first time and he said “yes, we can”. Simple word count: 33% of these words put emphasize on his collective approach and on the fact that it was going to be a collective challenge.

  2. Pingback: De Wever & Janssens of het verschil tussen stuurmanslunst en leiderschap | Thefutureleadershipinitiative

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