The Great Debate: Who'd Make the Better Boss, Romney or Obama?

Ned Smith, BusinessNewsDaily Senior Writer

It's one thing to cast your vote for the leader of the free world. But working for him might be an entirely different story. Making the decision to work for someone involves an entirely different calculus than casting your vote for president. Which man would you rather have as a boss, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?

We've gotten a closer look at their public personas over the course of the often-contentious debates in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election. But what would they really be like behind office doors? What would a stint with POTUS in charge do to your career? Is Mitt a masterful manager or a meddling martinet? Is Barack a vibrant visionary or a dawdling decider?

BusinessNewsDaily opened that question to a mix of small business owners, consultants, authors and organizational-dynamics experts.  We asked them to rate the candidates on a suite of management attributes, ranging from how well each man might empower employees and give workers the necessary tools to do their jobs to the strength and clarity of each leader’s vision and the likelihood he would throw employees under the bus when things went wrong. 

Neither Mitt Romney, nor Barack Obama was a clear-cut winner in this admittedly unscientific survey, one based on speculation rather than toe-to-toe observation. But the wide array of answers showed that the electorate is concerned about the ability of the candidates to execute on the divergent agendas they have laid out for the American voters.

The vision thing

Vision was uniformly mentioned as a key measure of a candidate's stature, both as president and potential boss.

"I think both gentlemen have a lot going for them as potential bosses," said Mark Chussil, founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, a consultancy that focuses on business strategy simulations. "Both are tremendously smart, both are effective at building and motivating teams and both have the guts to go all-in."

The show-stopping attributes for Chussil, who passed through Harvard Business School a few years after Romney and George W. Bush, are the candidate's vision and his decisiveness.

"If I do not believe in the vision the person is articulating, then nothing else the person does as a boss matters," he said. "Incidentally, I don't think making money is a vision. It's a pursuit of a goal."

The great decider

The other critical criterion for Chussil is decisiveness.

"I want someone with the courage, the brains and the integrity to think things through and to reconsider when new evidence comes in," he told BusinessNewsDaily. "How else can we do what's right and effective? That, by the way, is definitely not flip-flopping or pandering, which reflects a lack of integrity and intellectual honesty. Rather, it is learning, which reflects humility and putting the goal above … 'being right.'” He added that this management style also, “earns trust."

Based on those two criteria, Chussil said, he'd give the nod to Obama for the title of better boss, by a substantial margin.

Mark Stevens, best-selling author and CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm, is equally ardent in his support of Romney as the better boss.

"I, like everyone else, would like to work for a successful company, one that doesn't borrow money but makes money," Stevens said. "Romney spent his whole life proving he can do that. Obama built his career on taking. It's a no-brainer that I want to do it with a proven entrepreneur like Romney who, while creating opportunities for himself, will provide me with an environment to thrive. With Romney, I'd be dreaming up profit-making initiatives and benefiting from my performance. With Obama, I'd be spending my days filling out RFPs for grant money from federal agencies. This one is not even a close call: night and day."

Collegial environment

Michael Provitera, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Barry University and author of "Mastering Self-Motivation," takes a more nuanced view and believes that both candidates would respect their workers and create a healthy, collegial work environment. 

Where Romney may have a slight leg up on Obama is in vision and decisiveness, Provitera said.

"Romney may take this one," he said. "Vision is what a CEO lives by. They both do exceptionally well when it comes to conceptual skills. The toss up is between the other two skills that leaders possess — human resource skills and technical [skills]. They are probably even on human resource skills. I would probably suggest that Romney may be better at technical skills. But at the presidential level, the conceptual skills are the most important."

Romney is also hungrier, Provitera believes.

Fire in the belly

"Right now, Mitt is more motivated because he has one chance for an opportunity of a lifetime," Provitera said. "On the other hand, the president is motivated to stay the course and remain president for the next four years. The only difference is that [Obama] already attained the presidency, while Mitt never has. If Mitt loses, he may be out of the running in four years. The president can fall back on his four years in office and get on with his life. Give Mitt four years to turn things around. If he fails, replace him, too."

Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, a financial web site, thinks that Romney's private sector pedigree helps him bring more to the presidential table, but that he and Obama are in a dead heat in a number of areas, ranging from respecting employee knowledge and talents to the ability to clearly communicate a strong vision.

Schrage has reservations about both men, though, when comes to having the backs of employees when things go south.

I've got your back

"Honestly, I don't trust either one in this respect," he said. "Obama seems more likely to throw you under the bus and then back over you, and Romney just wants results. If you don't get them, that's on you."

Billie Blair, an organizational psychologist who has worked with the CEOs of many Fortune 1000 companies, believes that Romney is stronger in the art of management, while Obama remains something of a novice who is good at articulating concepts, but not necessarily good at implementing them. And that can have a direct bearing on the work/life equation for employees, she said.

"Novice managers want everyone else to work because they're so insecure about their position," she said.

They also have a propensity to abdicate responsibility when events go awry on their watch, Blair said, citing Obama's reactions in the wake of the terrorist attack in Libya.

A more experienced, seasoned manager like Romney is smart enough to know that if he doesn't have the backs of his employees, that message will spread through the organization like wildfire.

Likeability — the killer app?

The majority of the people BusinessNewsDaily interviewed conceded that Obama has the edge in terms of likeability. But likeability isn't the killer app for presidential candidates, they said.

Diana Zimmerman, the founder and CEO of CMS Communications, a communications and event-production agency, succinctly articulated the majority view.

"If I were to hire one to run a business, it would be Romney, hands down," she said. "If I were looking for a casual friend, it may well be Obama. But I would never go into business with his personality type."

This story was provided by BusinessNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith  and BusinessNewsDaily @bndarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

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