Inside the Mind of a Leader
Who are you, what do you think, and why did you do what you did? While likely not the exact phrasing used by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, author, and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward, those queries drive his curiosity about the mind of a leader. During the closing general session, the veteran investigative journalist reflected on a career spent trying to get to the bottom of what motivates those in positions of great power.
Woodward—who recently followed up his 2010 book Obama's Wars (Simon and Schuster) with The Price of Politics, a new book on President Barack Obama and the national economy, hot off the press last month—has a particular penchant for deciphering the leadership styles and decision-making processes of contemporary U.S. presidents. Woodward said he is drawn to the subject in part because of the incredible concentration of power in the president's office.
He also feels a duty to do so because of a corresponding shroud of secrecy. "No one is an open book, especially in politics," said Woodward. "We are now in a political culture in which straight talk gets very little credit and there's not a tendency to come clean."
Despite his legendary skill to get people talking, uncovering what presidential candidates really think has never been easy. "If either presidential candidate came out and said, 'I am going to level with you,' he might be the winning candidate because there's such a thirst for the real thing," Woodward said.
During the final countdown to the 2012 presidential election, Woodward believes questions about what the candidates stand for and how each plans to use the power of the presidency will grow in importance. Polling suggests people want a president who will use the power of the position to fix things, asserted Woodward.
"You have three people in this election: Obama, Romney, and the persuadable voter. The latter is the one who will actually decide this election," Woodward said. The winning candidate, he predicted, may be the one who can best articulate who he is.
How does Woodward keep his edge when it comes to uncovering the substance behind the surface layers of a leader? He is, after all, not without some skillful interviewing tactics. With regard to the materials he submits in advance of an interview, Woodward freely admitted: "The really good questions, I don't put on the list."
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