The Romney incident – two lessons in leadership

The video of Romney’s speech in May during a fundraising dinner headlines the news all over the world. Most comments are made about his statement that he doesn’t care about 47 % of the people. Two lessons in leadership can be made:

1) Behavioral consistency is important in leadership. People don’t like leaders that say A to a certain audience and B to another audience. Two-faced people are less trusted. And because we live in a fishbowl society, it has become impossible to manage different messages for different audiences in a consistent way. This is one of the drivers for authenticity: if you stick to the beliefs that you truely believe in, it is easier to stay consistent.

2) Trust is the power of leadership that wants to change people’s behaviors and attitudes. To gain that trust, leaders have to be prototypical for the group they want to change. They have to say “I’m one of you”. You can manage people with authority or hard power, but you can’t turn their hearts and minds that way. By disregarding 47 % of America’s voters, Romney gives the impression that he doesn’t want to gain their trust to lead them into a better future.

Bart De Wever, one of the candidates for becoming mayor of Antwerp created a similar discussion in the Belgian press. As a reaction to muslim protests last weekend, he said that “the city of Antwerp is only for those who do efforts to belong to the city”. He too has to answer the question of the people: “How can we trust you if you turn away from us?”

Any comment?


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 12. Trust, power & authority, 14. Authenticity & integrity, Comments & events, English and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Romney incident – two lessons in leadership

  1. Wouter says:

    I do not want to defend or attack any of the proponents in the political debate referred to here, but from a university-related thought leader, one would have expected more objectivity and thus some counterbalancing is in place. Not only is the account given of the latter incident inaccurate, it would be potentially incendiary to compare both events:

    1) The event to which De Wever responded was not a muslim protest, but a violent disturbance by a marginal group of youngsters who seized the introduction of an islam-critical movie as a cause to illegaly assemble and potentially threaten an ongoing street fair. It would be an insult to the muslim communtiy in Antwerp to consider this group (of which 230 were arrested, some for illegal weapon possession or assaulting police officers) as representative.
    2) De Wever did not proclaim to denunciate the muslim community. He declared not wanting to represent “Sharia4Belgium, drug dealers or street racers” (De Standaard, 20/9/2012). It is peculiar that the author should single out just this one group (and by implication generalize to an entire community) by referring to it as “a reaction to muslim protests”.
    3) Soft power approaches are fine in a ‘going concern’ business leadership setting, definitely in creative, high potential settings. However, when one seeks to change historically grown, institutionalized mishabits, they are most often ineffective. I would be more than happy to share my research on this exact topic.
    4) Authenticity might be achieved by being equally critical of opposing viewpoints? In any case, in these stakeholder debates there is some validity to the claim that obligations are often overlooked (again, happy to share my research). This does not necessarily mean that policies focusing on them are necessarily ‘not inclusive’, but rather ‘not unconditional’.
    5) I might interpret this wrong, but do you mean by your criticism that authentic leadership does not require people to do efforts? Even though the concept is obviously vaguely defined, at least I always understood it to imply a more balanced approach to leadership, comparable to the (admittedly transactional) team-oriented leadership approach of Blake & Mouton. An approach denying people’s obligations as I interpret your implication here, would then be more like the country club style, which does not work in a political, nor a business environment…

    I would think that getting the facts straight would be a first prerequisite of authenticity.

    • Dear Wouter, thank you for your elaborate reaction and you’re right to challenge the evidence for the claims I make. In your reaction I distinguish two arguments.

      First of all my phrase ‘muslim protests’ and the position of Bart De Wever. I agree that the term ‘muslim protest’ is rather vague. I did this on purpose because it’s an English blog post and I didn’t find it necessary to elaborate on the precise background and nature of the incidents in Borgerhout. I still don’t think that it would add much to the debate. As for your Bart De Wevers quote, it literally comes from De Morgen, published on 20th September.

      Secondly your question for scientific references:
      – Nye, J. (2010). Power and Leadership. In NOHRIA, N., & KHURANA, R. (eds.), Handbook of leadership theory and practice. A Harvard Business School centennial colloquium. Harvard Business Press, p. 305-332. (about soft and hard power)
      – Cialdini, R. (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p. (about the importance of behavioural consistency)
      – Avolio, B. & Gardner, W.L. (2006). Authentic leadership development: getting to the roots of positive forms of leadership. The leadership Quarterly, 16, p. 315-338. (about the positive leadership theories).
      – Haslam, S, Reicher, S., & Platow, M. (2010). The new psychology of leadership. Identity, influence and power. New York: Psychology Press, 267 p. (about the importance of being prototypical as a leader)
      – Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Boston: Business School Press, 348 p. (about the difference between leadership, authority and power).

      The TFLI blog wants to stimulate the debate about leadership in our society. With this blog post I wanted to make two points: 1) behavioural inconsistency undermines the trust people have in leaders; authenticity has become more important in todays fishbowl society; 2) leadership, defined as bringing social change (Heifetz) gets its power from being prototypical.

      I welcome your offer to look at your research. This shouldn’t be too hard as we are practically neighbours :).

  2. Wouter says:

    Dear Koen, I appreciate your sportsmenship, as my comment may come across perhaps a bit more harsh and impulsive than intended when reading it again. I certainly applaud your efforts in putting together the blog and the interesting initiative it relates to. To put things in perspective, I have to admit that my job in this instance as a critic is much easier and I doubt whether I would be able to do yours as a blogger myself. Although clearly not being an expert on the concept, I also find myself agreeing with your 2 points about leadership. That being said, I think there is still room for debate on the final parallel drawn to Belgian politics.

    I totally agree that we should refrain from giving too much context, especially to an international audience, as historic accounts of such events are always in some way colored. However, the main thrust in my first comment focuses on the ‘marginality’ of the ‘excluded’ group. The parallel drawn between Romney’s 47% and De Wever’s reference to this one marginal group, among other criminal subcultures, is skewed. This is not only a relevant, but also a necessary contextualization if one wants to draw such a loaded parallel without coming across as a cheap shot.

    Moreover, my De Wever paraphrase is in fact literally quoted from De Wever and also appears as such in De Standaard, where I referenced it from ( In this same article, it is also argued that De Wever’s reaction is (according to himself) representative of a longer debate between himself and the current mayor, which is driven to a boiling point by the illegal and violent protests, not a general reaction to muslim protest in general. If indeed true, this is quite relevant not only in stressing marginality of the group focused on by De Wever, but also as it voids the point made about the consistency of the message.
    Related to the point on marginality, I argue that it is also useful to distinguish ‘non-inclusiveness’ from ‘non-conditionality’. This simply means that there is a large difference to discriminate by the groups they are born into or culturally / religiously evolve toward from those who, by choice, fail to live up to the (legal) conditions posed on citizenship by this society. But none of these arguments invalidate any part of your two lessons about leadership. From a policy point of view, this would basically mean that government is responsible to give any member of society sufficient chances and to eliminate potential barriers to realizing them as far as possible. Non-conditionally does not mean, however, that governments who succeed in these tasks should also condone the repeated neglect of members’ obligations to society if they choose to refuse the opportunities offered and to live outside society’s laws.

    If I were to briefly summarize my argument, it would consist of one main thrust. Although agreeing with the valuable lessons about leadership, I merely question the validity of the parallel drawn to the Belgian situation referred to and even whether such political parallels are even desirable. As, if politics were merely a question of intentional leadership, we would not be in a democracy.

    In fact, it might be questioned whether leadership should be taken as the final responsibility of public representatives at all. These people are responsible for defending the public interests and as such, their role is rather strategic as public interest is very rarely aligned with the interests of all subgroups (which is recognized in just about any book on stakeholders I have read). The leadership concept itself is imho (but again, I’m no expert on this) not really served by spreading it to such a context. Trying to stretch a concept to cover so many different meanings, might devaluate the entire thing.

  3. Wouter, we really need to get together :)!

    I appreciate your comment and especially your last paragraph about my attempts to make the concept of leadership relevant for the societal context. It’s exactly what I want to do. It’s also the mission of Antwerp Management School to develop management expertise based on self, global and societal awareness. Our ambition is to develop and become global citizens. Therefor we expect of our researchers, faculty and our students and program participants that they actively reflect on their contribution to society at large.

    I agree that this exercise is not easy and raises a number of questions, not in the least, as you state clearly the risk of devaluating the meaning of a concept by trying to stretch it. Food for thought!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s