I’ve studied the leadership styles of America’s presidents for the past 15 years. I particularly pay attention to the types of people that presidents like to have around them. It says a lot about a man’s (or a woman’s) character to know whether they encourage a difference of opinion, or whether they like to be surrounded by “yes” men. It’s a tipoff to whether a president has an open, curious mind, capable of learning and adapting, or whether a president is essentially intolerant of dissent.
Nixon and Reagan were famous for surrounding themselves with people who thought like they did. George Herbert Walker Bush, in contrast, invited a variety of opinion. Clinton is famous for changing his mind frequently – and being too undisciplined.
Reading The Sunday New York Times this week, I’m remembering the old McCain, the pre-campaign McCain who was always up for a good intellectual fight. Maureen Dowd’s column asks pointedly, where did that McCain disappear to? I also remember the current President Bush in his Texas days, when he was seen as a uniter, not a divider. How did Texas George transmogrify into Guantanamo George? (For that matter, how did he wind up with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney?)
Obama is keenly aware of his place in history. He’s run a very disciplined campaign, a campaign that thinks strategically, looks at every option carefully, makes tough choices, and then executes. We need the same in the White House. We need to see the same Obama that we’ve come to admire during the campaign. The next few weeks will be interesting to watch as President Obama begins to assemble his team. It will tell us a lot about what we can expect over the next four years.