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Leadership Lessons from the White House:

Disproving the notion that HBS is indifferent to politics, a crowd of over 170 students recently gathered to hear Kenneth Mehlman, manager of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign, share his thoughts on presidential leadership and the 2004 election. Mr. Mehlman, a graduate of the Harvard Law School, served as the National Field Director for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and was White House Political Director prior to assuming management of the 2004 campaign.

The late Friday afternoon discussion, which was sponsored by the HBS Republican Club, focused on the managerial and leadership style of George W. Bush, the nation’s first MBA President. In a series of 8 “leadership lessons,” (see inset on page 5) Mr. Mehlman outlined what he believes are the key elements of the President’s management philosophy and cited specific examples for each of his observations.

The large and politically diverse audience then had the opportunity to ask a broad array of questions concerning Iraq, the war on terrorism, the 2004 election, multilateralism and collective security, and many other important topics.

Both supporters and detractors of the President acknowledged that Mr.
Mehlman was very effective at articulating and defending the administration’s policies. Jeff DeVolder (OJ) said “I thought he did a terrific job of explaining the President’s national defense policy” and added that “he had a great sense of history.”

When asked about the President’s upcoming re-election bid, Mr. Mehlman said that while the campaign is preparing for a close election, none of the current candidates for the Democratic nomination are “running the kind of campaign that has won elections in recent decades.”

Despite the political nature of the event, the hour-long talk and Q&A session was remarkably free of the partisan rancor so typical of presidential politics. Irfhan Rawji (OD) observed that he was “pleasantly surprised by how respectful Mr. Mehlman was towards the opposition” and said that he “did a good job of drawing lessons from Democrats and Republicans.”

Mr. Mehlman closed by encouraging students to become involved in politics and public service, saying that it is a great way for talented people to make a difference in the world.

December 8, 2003
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