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Turnaround, Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games by Mitt Romney

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Why I Read This Book

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States. I wanted to learn more about him. I remember his father George W. Romney, former Governor of Michigan. Romney Sr. sabotaged his own campaign for the presidency with the unfortunate but true remark that U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam had brainwashed him on the war. He was a different kind of candidate for office, and I wanted to know what kind of candidate is Mitt.

The organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics thrust the roles of president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)  as Mitt Romney tells the story. Financial scandal inside of SLOC required the organizers to replace its leaders with an independent leader free from the appearance of corruption. Mitt was their choice.

Leadership

Mitt Romney has an elegantly simple formula for leadership that consists of vision, values, and motivation. The leader defines the vision and the group values, while motivating the group to execute the mission consistent with the vision and values. A leader derives 20% of his authority from his or her title and 80% from the decisive action he or she takes.

These are inspiring thoughts and shows that Mitt has empathy for the member of his team. This quote from his book reminds me of his father’s unfortunate brainwashing comment:

One of my early decisions would have a big impact on how the organization viewed my leadership. … Think about it: when you take a job to perform a service, not to earn a paycheck or win a jackpot, you don’t really care a lot about how people think of you. You have the absolute luxury to do exactly what you think is right. p. 56

The more fortunate wording about caring about people and doing what is right would have been,

a service job requires you to focus on people, because they are your #1 concern. Your task is to persuade people  your vision is right.

If Mitt refers to not caring about the negative comments by outsiders and soon to be outsiders, he’s still off base. I believe a core skill for leader is to stop those people from becoming active enemies by listening to their concerns and showing your decision incorporates those concerns even if you reject their advice. Better a pacified critic, than an active enemy.

Another core skill for a leader is to recognize that the people you lead know their interests and needs better than you. A leader is not elected to do exactly what he thinks is right. He’s elected to serve the people’s values, interests and needs while moving them to towards his/her vision. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a union without slavery and Barack Obama believes gays have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. But, leaders persuade people that doing right will best serves their values, interests, and needs. People don’t want leaders to tell them what is right.

Family

Mitt grew up in a Mormon family dedicated to service to his family, church, and community. Mitt’s father, mother, and grandparents practiced service and staked their reputations on service. Yet, in the end, Mitt writes a capstone to his philosophy on service in the paragraph quoted above about not caring a lot about how people think of you. George Romney would have written that differently.

Mitt writes a lot about his family’s history.  He is a dedicated family man, and wants to be respected for those qualities.

I read his book to learn about his leadership examples, ideas, and style gained in business.

Business

Bain Capital

His recollections on becoming a successful business person take second place to those about his family, though his boss at Bain Capital, Bill Bain, influenced Mitt enough to be quoted throughout the book:

  • Trust your gut, because there’s a scientific basis for it.
  • Show you care about money, and your team will also.
  • Round team members’ flat spots (counter a member’s weakness with another’s strengths) and round flat sides (get someone else to do what you don’t do well, attributed to Tom Stemberg of Staples). Curiously, Mitt approves the advice, then writes he didn’t have time to follow it with SLOC.
  • Most things can be fixed, but smart or dumb is forever. A curious sentiment for a leader to harbor.

Mitt Romeny shares the formula that he used at Bain Capital to turnaround the companies in financial distress, writing that he used that same formula to save the 2002 Winter Olympic:

Perform a strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the business that can take months.

Build your team – select the right people, build unity, and motivate them.

Focus, focus, focus – don’t try to do too many things; do what’s important and do that well.

Guiding Principles at SLOC

Mitt published in the book the excellent guiding principles of SLOC that were place on every SLOC desk.

Teamwork

  • Involve all appropriate stakeholders in each project/issue.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically, within SLOC’s structure.
  • Consider other viewpoints and find win-win solutions.
  • Emphasize and recognize team success.
  • Be helpful to others.

Pride and Passion

  • Seek Gold Medal performance in your own job.
  • Love what you do.
  • Relish each small victory and achievement.
  • Realize you impact on history while at SLOC.

Communication

  • Be honest, direct and respectful in all your communication.
  • Accept feedback, avoid defensiveness.
  • Seek prompt resolution to issues with others in a personal and professional manner.
  • Listen more, talk a little less.

Integrity

  • Be loyal to those not present.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t have hidden agendas.
  • Respect and value diversity in others.

Fun and Celebration

  • Take your work seriously, not yourself.
  • Encourage laughter at all meetings.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look for opportunities to include others.
  • Celebrate those who demonstrate SLOC’s Guiding Principles.

Conclusions

I learned that Mitt Romney is a person driven by details and a sense of entitlement. He is an expert at identifying and categorizing details and then prioritizing those categorized details to achieve the goal. He is a terrific networker. He knows how to round the skills and experience of experts in business, government, social welfare, and people management to achieve goals.

One example of his family’s reputation for categorizing and prioritizing is his paraphrasing from his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney’s biography:

Loyalty to country and to his church was a cardinal virtue…. His was the assumption that men should be students of both state and church government in order that they might intelligently carry on in harmony with the fundamental law and discipline of each and not be like “dumb driven cattle,” exercising no mind of their own. p. 9

A Romney presidency would a presidency driven by his personality to categorize details and to select the right people to achieve goals. The question is can a turnaround formula successfully used at Bain Capital and SLOC work govern the American people?

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