A useful presidential primary exercise can be had by applying fundamental concepts from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to the candidates.
Covey developed his character and competency oriented leadership treatise after his doctoral dissertation critiqued 200 years of American “success literature” starting in 1776. Covey found that literature focused on the development of character through the 1920s. Afterwards, the literature started focusing on personality.
Covey believed character was far more important to effective leadership than personality. “The tip of the iceberg (personality) is what people first see,” he wrote. “Although image, techniques, and skills can influence your outward success, the weight of real effectiveness lies in good character.”
“To be truly effective in any area, a person must have a balance of high character and high competence,” Covey continued. “Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record.”
You can see these concepts vividly in the presidential primaries.
On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton stresses her competency, but struggles to convince voters of her character. Bernie Sanders struggles with competency (particularly the commander-in-chief readiness question) while attracting more and more voters who believe in his character. Neither pass the high character balanced with high competency test.
On the Republican side, personality trumps both character and competency among the top candidates – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.
Trump built his fortune and brand on personality and has shown little concern for the basic tenets of character. He has no record of competency in government, though he has shown competence in the private sector.
Cruz and Rubio used their personalities to build national images – Cruz as a crusader for conservative values, Rubio as an up and comer in the party. But given the chance to become effective leaders exhibiting character and competency as first term Senators, they stumbled. Most notably, Rubio helped craft the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration proposal, but wilted in the face of political heat, showing a lack of courage and Cruz’s over-the-top attempts to lead ended badly, with his sore loser tirades causing his Republican colleagues to treat him as a pariah.
As for the readiness to be commander-in-chief question, all three can only answer with bombast and rhetoric.
Indeed, Republican voters have spurned nearly every candidate with high competency in government. Jeb Bush has now joined other successful governors Rick Perry, Scott Walker, George Pataki, and Mike Huckabee and veteran Senator Lindsey Graham on the sidelines. Only Ohio Governor John Kasich still has some traction, based on his New Hampshire finish.
Unless Kasich or Ben Carson can somehow move up, Republican voters will have closed the door on candidates with high character too.
Quixotically, if Republicans want a nominee who can run on more than personality, Trump’s business success may make him the man.
This Covey exercise suggests there will be no candidate with a balance of high competency and high character this November, unless Kasich can somehow emerge.