If I have erred, I err in company with Abraham Lincoln.
My administration will continue to act on the lessons we’ve learned so far to better protect the people of this country. It’s our most solemn duty.
—George W. Bush, November 27, 2002
George W. Bush amazed even his foes with his steady hand on the tiller. It was no secret that half the country questioned his legitimacy as a sitting president. Yet the responsibility for directing the response to the worst attack on American soil in more than half a century fell to him. He rode the roller coaster of the economy, including a huge stock market collapse and criminal charges against some of the nation’s largest corporations and most powerful business executives. He charted a war against Iraq, strategized about the Korean peninsula, and tried to broker truces in the endless Middle East struggles.
Through it all he remained remarkably consistent. His style, honed in Austin, came to Washington with only modest fine-tuning. The George W. Bush we saw in January 2001 remained remarkably the same through the crises that followed. If anything, he became more confident in himself and more committed to his style.
However, it is the paradox of leadership that the seeds of failure often grow in the bounty of success. Why? One reason is that the more an approach seems to work, the more enticing it is to employ that same approach on all problems all the time. Moreover, it can risk blinding leaders to potential traps and unintended consequences. No style or approach can possibly fit every situation. Sometimes the approach that has proved so effective fails miserably when that leader is confronted with a different setting, issue, or set of circumstances. Bush’s clothes fit him well, just as his style does. But there are seven traps that have the potential to trip him up and even cripple his presidency.