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The Special Personality Strengths of Mitt Romney - John Ware

The Special Personality Strengths of Mitt Romney

Guest opinion by New York author John Wareham

Some see it as a weakness, but in fact it is becoming increasingly apparent that Governor Mitt Romney’s greatest personality strength is the lack of core principles that permits him to massage the truth and dissemble without regret. A lifetime dedicated to corporate leadership selection and development has taught me that falsifying executives can quickly ascend the corporate ladder. They are especially gifted in securing the upper hand in financial dealings. They possess a superficial intellect that masks a stunning lack of empathy, which in turn permits the tunnel-visioned pursuit of personal goals by any means necessary. Getting what they want—power, mostly—is infinitely more important to them than veracity or logic. They are contemptuous of the intellect of others. Forthright in believing that in a world comprised of “givers and takers” they regard failure to exploit the weaknesses of others is naïve and foolish. This belief system and behavior pattern liberates them to do or say or anything without the experiencing the guilt or remorse that would hamper lesser mortals.

These may seem unappealing faults in a companion, but when a business turnaround calls for the closing of non-performing divisions or the firing of long-term employees, this essentially sociopathic blend of charm, deceit, and ruthlessness can be extremely helpful in a colleague. The breathtaking facility with which they can lie, and their lack of compunction in so doing, makes them not only first rate manipulators, but, often, pragmatic—and effective—short-term problem-solvers, too.

There is a problem, however: manipulating a profit is not the same as earning one. That’s why sociopathic executives rarely ever go on to create or lead sustainable business enterprises. They disrespect not only the people who work for the corporation, but the customers too. Authentic leaders are drawn to industries they revere, and within which they contribute to their communities by building true prosperity for everyone. Sociopathic executives mostly see industries and corporations as mere trajectories to quick personal enrichment. They are typically predators who “raid, restructure, outsource, and resell.” That Mr. Romney extracted a substantial fortune for himself in precisely this manner suggests that his patrician, get-along go-along persona masks outstanding sociopathic skills and significant weapons of communication.

Like most Americans, I was intrigued by the unauthorized video of Mitt Romney explaining to a gathering of potential campaign donors that it would be unwise to expect to win votes by crafting a tax reduction plan for the 47% of the population who pay no federal income tax. What really caught my attention, however, was what I know to be a sociopathic Achilles heel: needless exaggeration. In this case the whopper came in the form of the glib and callous labeling of the 47% whose votes he had written off, as moochers who see themselves as victims. Seemingly minor surface quirks can signal deep underlying maladjustments, so spotting clues and connecting dots is the key to predicting winners and losers. That’s why intuition told me to link the backroom sharing of this cold-blooded hyperbole to a couple of other callous acts. As a high school teenager, offended by what he judged to be fellow student's gay hairstyle, Romney organized a mob to hold the weeping boy down, and as he screamed for help, Romney scissored off the offensive locks. He showed a similar lack of empathy as an underclassman, when, with fellow-student giggling in the background, he deliberately urged a legally blind teacher to walk head-on into a closed door. Then, as we all know, in later life, Romney strapped the hapless family dog to the roof of his car for a cross county sojourn.

To my mind, President Obama’s poor debate showing in his opening television debate was also somewhat related to Governor Romney’s sociopathic gifts. Obama arrived expecting a serious, logic discussion of serious issues. In fact, he was blindsided by an intellectual chameleon who reinvented himself moment by moment. Bear in mind, too, that sociopaths are superb performers when caught in a lie. They never blink or show remorse. If they back away, they pretend they never did. President Obama’s core coping mechanisms, courtesy and intellect, mostly serve him well, but ill-equipped him for this particular opponent. It was a fight akin to the 1976 Tokyo matchup of boxer Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. There the wrestler rendered Ali impotent by lying on the canvas and kicking him in the knees, then wrapping his leg around Ali’s calf and upending him. The hapless Ali was left to mostly punch the air, and landed only six blows in fifteen rounds. So too in the Obama/Romney matchup: the Governor’s pathological disinterest in truth or logic—his mesmerizing ability to lie on the carpet rendered his attacks toxic and the President perplexed and ineffectual. Sure, Obama returned to form in the subsequent debates. But a loser in pursuit of a comeback can seem like a shorn Samson wearing a toupe. The aura of inevitability was gone, the Obama magic devalued.

Unfortunately for the citizens of the United States of America, sociopathic gifts and skills are seldom so well-suited to leading a country. Extracting riches from business shenanigans taps one set of skills; creating a prosperous community that optimizes the assets and skills of all citizens mostly calls for another. Hence the uneasy feelings that Governor Romney routinely provokes. His charm and glibness notwithstanding, the lack of empathy behind the awkward smile is sensed, and casual observers of all political stripes are routinely left with the uneasy feeling that the Governor is nothing more than a liar and a phony. In fact, he is a dangerous man.


John Wareham is a New York leadership consultant, and author of several business bestsellers, including Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter, The Anatomy of a Great Executive, and, most recently, the psycho-political thriller, The President’s Therapist. For more information see:
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