Paper: Leadership Styles in “The President, The Pope, and the Prime Minister”

This is the first paper I wrote for my Leadership in Management course, which I took second semester senior year. It was a pretty good course, although predictably Republican in its politics. This paper is a summary and analysis of The President, The Pope, and The Prime Minister. It may not be clear from below, but while I found the book interesting because I lack a good education in that time period, it’s also impressively slanted and not something you should take as gospel.

I. International Politics

As Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Karol Wojtyla were coming to power, the world was a dark and scary place. Experts were finally coming to grips with the Soviet Empire as a permanent political feature. Left-wing Marxist rebels throughout the Third World were applying serious pressure to liberal capitalist governments; rebel movements against Marxist governments were small, ineffective, and sparse. The world’s democracies were in the grip of stagflation or worse; proxy wars like Vietnam had gone very poorly indeed; and friendly governments like the Shah of Iran were being toppled for anti-American crusaders and Soviet-backed Communists. Other governments, wary of being themselves toppled or drawn into violence, were declaring neutrality as part of the Non-Aligned Movement, but their economic goals were essentially pitting them against the United States and on the side of the Soviets in forums like the United Nations.

Given these evident truths, the smart money in international affairs was for a continued détente with the Soviet Union. This would allow the democracies of the West to solve their economic issues without threat of invasion while reducing defense spending, allowing more money for capital investment and social services. More importantly, it would prevent drawing the world into a war that would have to dance around nuclear weapons, and which nobody was sure the West could win.

Unfortunately, such a policy had serious flaws. First, it ignored the plight of those within the Warsaw Pact — a plight that Pope John Paul II could not ignore. Second, the policy assumed the Soviet Union was a permanent feature of the international system — an assumption not shared by President Ronald Reagan. Third, it implied a limited moral equivalence between Western democracy and Soviet Communism as equal governments of sovereign states — an equivalence that Thatcher was not prepared to grant.

Each of these leaders came to power willing and expecting to fight Communism — John Paul for the sake of religion; Thatcher for the sake of Europe; Reagan for the sake of his economic ideology and the freedom of the world. Luckily for us, the Soviet Union was far more pliable than anybody else realized. Though the Soviets had long hidden it, they were beginning to realize that their economy had grown hardly at all since World War II. Client states were taking ever-increasing funds to prop up satisfactorily, and the recently-commenced Soviet-Afghan war was shaping up to be worse for the Soviets than Vietnam had been for the United States — and in their own backyard rather than on the opposite side of the world.

II. Critical Decisions

As leaders, each individual had different focuses, and their decisions reflect these priorities. Pope John Paul II was temporal guardian of God’s Church, and his opposition to Communism resulted from its determined atheism and control over each individual’s cultural life. Margaret Thatcher felt the specter of Soviet invasion over Europe, and longed for a day when England’s economy could rise to the powerhouse it had once been; her ironclad strength resulted from a determination to return England to free-market capitalism and to free Europe from fear. Reagan found Communism evil both for its political ills and for its opposition to the laissez-faire free market he promoted; Reagan pushed the United States to a far more conservative liberal economy and was able to face down the Soviet Union on the strength of his moral conviction that Communism was not only evil but destined to fail. Each made specific decisions that helped speed the fall of Communism and the triumphant re-emergence of capitalism as the world’s premier economic system.

Reagan’s decisions are the broadest and most identifiable. First, he committed the United States to supply-side economic management for eight years, and changed fiscal policy’s focus from unemployment to inflation (which may well have reduced unemployment in the end).

Second, he committed to bankrupting the Soviets through a massive defense buildup, which he thought they would be unable to match.

Third, he began to support anti-Communist forces, mostly in Latin America, but also and importantly in both Afghanistan and the peaceful resistance of Poland.

Fourth, despite widespread scorn he began to direct resources at a Strategic Defense Initiative which the Soviets evidently took seriously; and though many individuals and governments considered Reagan a cowboy he maintained some moral authority by offering to share his potentially MAD-disrupting “Star Wars” program.

Fifth, he directly opposed the Soviet Union far more openly around the world, installing missiles in Europe and expending US blood and treasure in Grenada, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.

Thatcher made a number of similar decisions during her time as Prime Minister. She committed her country to privatization, and England’s subsequent rebound provided an inspiring example to many former socialist nations over the following decade, as “privatization expertise became one of the City of London’s most profitable services.”

Thatcher ordered a 3% annual growth in defense spending

, and while such an increase from the UK was hardly noticeable compared to Reagan’s US defense growth, it was a serious statement of her priorities and plans. Later on, it surely helped England’s ability to wage the Falklands War, which Thatcher championed and greatly benefited from.

After Reagan’s support during the Falklands War, she generally supported his policies, with the notable exception of SDI and nuclear disarmament, which she feared would leave Europe vulnerable to Soviet conventional forces. But her public disagreements hardly influenced American policy, and her private ones usually settled an argument already in progress.

Thatcher’s influence over Communism was surely greatest in her display of the free market’s power.

Pope John Paul II’s actions before the fall of Communism are the most interesting. He wielded a relatively miniscule economic power and no military forces at all, yet was instrumental in Poland’s resistance. His mind seems to have been the subtlest of the three, yet he was also the leader most bound by tradition, for his traditions were those of God. John Paul II made a number of critical strategic and moral decisions. First, as a bishop in Poland he encouraged the creation of parishes without churches — virtually unheard of in Catholicism, but the formation of parishes allowed the Church to bring much greater force against the Communist government in applications to build new churches. In a somewhat similar vein, he created an archdiocesan synod that as part of his promotion of the Vatican II reforms.

This tactic developed stronger local leadership than is typical of the Catholic system that must have proved useful later. Second, John Paul II encouraged civil dissent against the Communist government, as both bishop and Pope, at a time when many local priests were willing to accept much less in concessions from the government.

Third, John Paul II not only withheld his blessing from liberation theology but spoke out against it.

These decisions manifested themselves in numerous local and tactical actions, including his visits to specific locations within Poland. And they were apparently indispensable in maintaining Polish morale and keeping their desire alive as a righteous one.

In the face of these lists of actions, it is clear that Pope John Paul II brought moral authority to the struggle against Communism, while President Ronald Reagan brought money and guns. Margaret Thatcher’s contributions are surely appreciated but, in the end, were not needed to accelerate the Soviet Union toward a destruction substantially like that witnessed by history.

III. Leadership Characteristics

Each of these leaders had a significantly different style. Their personalities varied dramatically: Keirsey identifies Reagan as an Artisan, Thatcher as a Rational, and John Paul II as an Idealist.

Accordingly, Reagan was concerned with making practical decisions that were effective, possibly while disregarding the rules (as in Iran-Contra); Thatcher focused on the creation of effective systems (as during the Falklands War and in her interactions with the European Community), and John Paul II focused on creating moral systems (in his encyclicals, discussion on Humanum Vitae, and opposition to both Communism and liberation theology).

In terms of Farkas and Wetlaufer’s leadership analysis, these leaders all had characteristics of the strategic style, picking an end goal (the elimination of Communism, and for both Thatcher and Reagan the revival of market economies) and then making decisions based on that. Nonetheless, they varied somewhat in their other tendencies. Thatcher seems to have incorporated a more expertise-based approach, not only in her own government but also in society by selling public housing to its occupants. Reagan was heavily strategic but focused more on human assets with his hands-off management style. John Paul II, as Pope, focused on both human assets and box management, proscribing certain teachings in no uncertain terms while still attempting to keep his effective priests and return misguided members to the fold (as in his dealings with the Sandinistas).


IV. Best Leader

From this description of events, it seems clear to me that Pope John Paul II was the best leader of the three. Reagan was able to defeat the Soviets economically and militarily on the world stage; Thatcher did wonders for England. John Paul, boasting no weapons or powers beyond moral authority, succeeded in overthrowing the Communist government of Poland. He did this peacefully, without armed militias or bombs from planes. And his role was the only one of the three that would not have been inevitably replicated by somebody else.

Reagan’s role in the collapse of the Soviet empire was important — his deliberate military buildup and aid to anti-Communist guerillas in Soviet client states increased economic pressure on the Soviet Union. Likewise, his aid to Solidarity in Poland certainly contributed to the movement’s widespread survival. And Reagan’s portrayals of the “Evil Empire” probably convinced Soviet planners that he would not tolerate military occupations of rebel countries like Poland that they might otherwise have committed to. But Solidarity in some form would have survived indefinitely even without aid. The Soviet Union’s many economic troubles would have continued to grow worse even in the face of an American reduction in defense spending, and eventually military and monetary aid to client states would have been cut off regardless. For these reasons, Reagan was not an indispensable leader — and the best leader is the one who does things needing doing that nobody else could have done.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was not indispensable, either in the fight against the Soviet Union or to her native England. Certainly she advocated market reforms and privatization before anybody else in power did so, but the continued failure of socialism in the UK and elsewhere (and the successes of the world’s capitalist economies) would inevitably have driven a small-l liberal to national prominence in any country as accustomed to success (both individual and national) as the United Kingdom (in stark opposition to the Soviet Union, where peasants had been ruled by authoritarian regimes for generations). And though from time to time Thatcher may have denied the Soviet position some moral credibility in Europe (as when she argued for the placement of US missiles to counter the SS-20 installations), for the same reasons Reagan was not indispensable, her positions did less to topple Soviet Communism than speed the adoption and return of capitalism in countries that had experimented with socialist economies. You simply cannot be considered the greatest leader if your primary foreign-policy acts were to support your closest ally whenever possible.

Compared to the works of Reagan and Thatcher, John Paul II’s successes were distinctly evitable. He helped to create the cultural resistance that became Solidarity’s base, against a Church tradition that insisted on majestic churches before the formation of a congregation. He created church-based webs of communication with local thinkers and leaders by encouraging this door-to-door evangelism and teaching others to obey the law while making it ineffective. This he did before shedding the name Wojtyla for John Paul II.

As Pope, John Paul continued his distinctive accomplishments. He spoke clearly and distinctively in defense of the individual and labor’s rights (as needed in Poland) while explaining liberation theology’s inherent moral (and spiritual) failings. On his visits to Poland he inspired the country, encouraged them to continue their peaceful struggle, and legitimized resistance as a Christian good, insisting then and later that Soviet-style atheist Communism was not and could not be a moral system. And his visits to Poland — along with his conduct in Nicaragua — helped to show the Communists just how weak, how lacking, and how fragile their rule was. Pope John Paul II’s behavior was indispensable in ending Communism internally, on the basis of elections and without violent riots, in a peaceful fashion. (Obviously this worked better in countries where he and Catholicism had more influence, whereas in Russia people took violently to the streets to undo military coups.) And unlike the behaviors of Reagan and Thatcher, it is entirely unclear that the Church without John Paul would have ever addressed the Warsaw Pact with the same forceful language, or encouraged Solidarity with the same unwavering support — the behavior of many local leaders in fact suggests just the opposite.


Choiniere, Ray & Keirsey, David. Presidential Temperament. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, Del Mar CA. Copyright 1992.

Farkas, Charles & Wetlaufer, Suzy. “The Ways Chief Executive Officers Lead.” Harvard Business Review on Leadership. Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston MA. Copyright 1998.

O’Sullivan, John. The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister. Regnery Publishing, Washington DC. Copyright 2006.