Klobuchar for President: A Good Senator, A Bad Boss or Both?

Senator Amy Klobuchar – one of only 20 women in the Senate – has an impressive record. On several occasions she ranked first among all senators in bills she sponsored that were passed and enacted into law.[1] Similarly, the senator’s service on the Senate Judiciary Committee has been widely praised.[2] Klobuchar has one of the highest approval ratings of any U.S. senator and can fairly claim to be a relative moderate (only six current Democratic senators have more conservative voting records), buttressing her claims that she can work effectively “across the aisle.”[3]

During a February 10, 2019 snowstorm in Minneapolis, Senator Klobuchar announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In her speech, she said, "I don't have a political machine. I don't come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit."[4]

By most any measure, Klobuchar has amassed a notable record in her 13 years in the U.S. Senate. If accomplishments, rather than fame and fortune, make one a strong presidential candidate, she would seem to be very well positioned.

Yet she has also witnessed a series of reports arguing that she is a bad boss. According to these reports, she is known to regularly berate aides publicly for their perceived failures. “It’s always ‘the worst,’” one aide said.[5] Some aides also have claimed that the senator made them perform personal errands, such as washing dishes in her home. Another aide reported being hit by a flying binder, and reportedly aides have been instructed not to speak unless spoken to first.[6] Perhaps because of this treatment, an analysis of staff turnover revealed that the senator has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the Senate.[7]

Klobuchar, while denying she is an abusive boss, admits she is demanding. "Yes, I can be tough. And yes, I can push people. I know that." she said.

Though Klobuchar has made no such claim, others detect a gender double-standard in the critiques. One former staffer said, “A man would never come under fire for this type of behavior.”[8] Stanford professor Bob Sutton, who has written about bad bosses, agrees, noting, “Women pay a larger price and have to walk the line of being nice and being competent and tough.”[9]

As a U.S. senator, Amy Klobuchar has worked tirelessly and effectively. But is she a good leader?

One of the senator’s former staffers argued no, saying, “When you have people who don’t want to work for you, you can’t be as effective.”

Professor Pfeffer, however, concludes that the role of political leader is different from that of a business leader. “I’m not sure the job of being president is a job of management in the sense of being a CEO,” he said. “Frankly as I see it, it’s about convincing people to do what needs to be done.”[10]

In pondering the implications for leadership, several questions come to mind: Where is the line between being a “tough” boss and a bad or abusive boss? Does this story tell us anything about the difference between political leadership and other kinds of organizational leadership? And, finally, is there a gender double-standard at work here?

View more on bad bosses in a NYT article published 26 February 2019 featuring comments from Lead Read Today contributor Dr. Bennett Tepper: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/26/health/boss-bullies-workplace-management.html

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull

[1] https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/2016/12/klobuchar-ranks-first-on-list-of-all-100-senators-with-bills-signed-into-law-in-current-congress.

[2] Pesca, M. (February 13, 2019). Klobuchar may be a bad boss. That shouldn’t disqualify her from the presidency. Slate. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/02/klobuchar-bad-boss-good-president.html.

[3] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/report-cards/2017/senate/ideology.

[4] Dickerson, J. (February 18, 2019). A brief history of presidential candidacy announcements. The Atlantic. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/brief-history-presidential-candidacy-announcements/582973/.

[5] Redden, M., & Terkel, A. (February 7, 2019). Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s mistreatment of staff scared off candidates to manage her presidential bid. Huffington Post. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/amy-klobuchar-abuse-staff-2020_us_5c5a1cb1e4b0871047588649.

[6] Stieb, M. (Feburary 8, 2019). Senator Klobuchar’s staff mistreatment reportedly goes back a decade, includes throwing binders. New York Magazine. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/02/report-klobuchars-staff-mistreatment-goes-back-a-decade.html.

[7] https://www.legistorm.com/turnover/worst_bosses.html.

[8] Cauterucci, C., Edwards, A., & Hampton, R. (February 15, 2019). Why is it so fraught to talk about the Klobuchar bad boss reports? Slate. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/02/klobuchar-bad-boss-difficult-discussion.html.

[9] Itkowitz, C. (February 8, 2019). Does it matter if Amy Klobuchar is a mean boss? Washington Post. Downloaded on February 18, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/02/08/does-it-matter-if-amy-klobuchar-is-mean-boss/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1c89164bf514.

[10] Itkowitz, C. (February 8, 2019). Does it matter if Amy Klobuchar is a mean boss?

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.