Mitt, Newt, and Leadership Lessons from the Campaign

Mitt, Newt, and Leadership Lessons from the Campaign

If you are a Democrat, you might have learned that Jon Huntsman is a Republican you could learn to at least tolerate even if you couldn’t bring yourself to actually like him. You probably didn’t see much to change your mind in positive manner about the other candidates – unless you think that President Obama might be too conservative on foreign affairs. Then you might have developed an affinity for Congressman Ron Paul.

If you are a Republican, you have learned that there is not one perfect candidate and that there are things to like and dislike about all of them.

But if you are a leader, the on-going battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich offers two important lessons about selling yourself and your ideas.

1. You have to connect with the head and the heart.

Consider Mitt Romney. He looks and speaks Presidential. He has a proven track record in the private sector. He knows how to create jobs. His views are at or near the center of the American political spectrum. He has an outstanding organization with plenty of money. He polls well against President Obama even before the general election smear tactics/campaign begins.

If you are thinking with your head, Mitt Romney is the logical choice for the Republicans to nominate.

And then, there is Newt Gingrich. He doesn’t particularly look Presidential, and he’s been known to sound more like your grumpy great-uncle Mory than the leader of the free world. His campaign is not particularly well funded. And, his views are often controversial. Despite his mostly brilliant performances in the Presidential debates, there is still a lingering fear that Newt will wander off the reservation and create an incident at the worst of all times.

Gingrich is a brilliant person with big ideas, but logically, he’s not the Republican nominee for the President of the United States.

Except for one thing – Newt connects with the heart. He growls at a debate moderator, and the audience cheers because deep down they wish they had the courage and intellect to say the same thing. He scolds the Washington status quo, and the audience loves him because he connects with their emotional dissatisfaction with government status quo. His ability to connect is so strong that some are willing to forgive his occasional off-the-wall remark as evidence of his authenticity and forget his long history as a player in Washington, DC.

Mitt makes people think he’s qualified to be a Presidential contender. Newt makes people feel that he’s the guy who would say what needs to be said if he were the President.

Here’s the lesson: Aristotle described three types of persuasive appeal: logos (logic); pathos (emotion); and ethos (ethical credibility). Assuming equal credibility, emotion works well for justifying short-term action, and logic works well for long-term action.

To be most effective, master the ability to persuade with logic and emotion. Ronald Reagan did so, and that is why he was called The Great Communicator.

2. People decide when it matters to them not when it matters to you.

A surprising statistic from the Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina Republican primaries was the high percentage of likely voters who did not decide on the candidate for whom they would vote until just before the election.

One explanation for this could be the lack of any one candidate to connect with both the head and heart of the voters. But perhaps there is another related factor: voters knew that more information would be forthcoming almost hourly. Why should they decide early? In many ways the voters are saying that they expect the candidates to work harder to convince them.

Here’s the lesson: Followers are, in many ways, like voters. Their commitment is the vote, and it must be earned. They will decide to give you their commitment and support on their terms not yours. Leaders must work harder to understand what it takes to earn the support of followers. Otherwise, the most you will get is reluctant compliance.

Presidential elections are a living laboratory for what followers look for from their leaders. We’ll check back in on a periodic basis to dissect and amplify the lessons.

In the meantime, please weigh in with your comments.

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.