Power: The Lessons of Leadership

THIS IS ONE I’LL BE SORT OF careful on, word for word. To me, leadership is boldly stepping forward, on a matter of real importance, in such a manner, with such qualities and character, that others choose to follow.

I’m afraid that, from the beginning, I’ve been bold and willing to step forward. And there are times when I turn around and I’m alone.

I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped and looked in the mirror to see if I’m a leader or not. Not long into our administration, [Administration and Finance] Secretary Eric Kriss said to me that there are at least two kinds of effective leaders. One is the kind that has a formula they are conscious of and follow carefully to achieve their objectives. The other is a leader that is highly effective but doesn’t know why. And he said ‘Mitt, you tend to be more in the latter category.’

My dad had a favorite saying, that politics is the fastest place to go from who’s-who to who’s-that. Politicians tend to become swelled with a sense of their great authority and power. But in our society, it’s stripped very quickly, as it should be.

If you’re a Republican leader in Massachusetts, you’re reminded almost every week that your power is a thin tissue, easily torn. You know, I lose more battles than I win. But the opportunity of leadership is to bring forward the things you believe in.

I’d been told by everyone, ‘Oh, this is going to be very different than what you experienced in the corporate world. You’re going to find that you won’t be able to order people around anymore. You’re going to have to get people to agree with you to get anything done.’ But that’s also true in business. In a business setting, you never stop selling, to your shareholders, to your employees, to your customers. In political life, you find the same features. Going from the private sector to the Olympics and then coming into state government, I think that was the biggest surprise for me, that the principles of leadership were very similar, if not identical.

One different aspect of political leadership is that there is a strong opposition. Not just disagreement over the right course, but an opposition that doesn’t want you to win. I jokingly said about the speaker [of the House] — and this was just a joke — that my job was to try and make Massachusetts better, and his job was to make sure I didn’t. Of course he’d say just the opposite about me.

I love wallowing in data. I came into office, and there were no reports that I could look at. None. Now every month I get a benchmark report, so I’m able to look at data across all of our agencies. But I don’t want just tables of raw numbers: I want it gathered and thoughtfully organized to yield observations and perspective. I don’t just want someone to come in and say, ‘Here’s the recommendation of the transportation department.’ That’s unacceptable.