Gingrich vs. Gingrich: Dissecting the Gingrich Persona

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Newt Gingrich is widely known as a smart guy with big ideas. Many who are unhappy with today's government like Gingrich's "in-your-face" pugnacity. But he is also under attack from former Republican colleagues -- those who know him best.

As of Dec. 12, no U.S. senator had endorsed Gingrich -- Romney had nine. They are not attacking his positions; they are attacking his personality. Gingrich does not try to deny the accusations. He says that he has changed. But is that likely?

What do colleagues say about Newt?

1. He enjoys throwing firebombs. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noon describes Gingrich as, "a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin saying, "Watch this!" Case-in-point was Gingrich's announcement on Meet the Press that Paul Ryan's health care proposal was "right wing social engineering." He provided no explanation for the charge and later apologized.

Newt Gingrich

2. He sees himself as a visionary. In his book, "Windows of Opportunity" Gingrich writes about mirrors in space that would reduce nighttime crime and the need for street lights. Some might call that crazy ... many might call that crazy.

3. He is a narcissist. Former Senator Alan Simpson summarized that, "He is for himself before he is for anybody." Former colleague John Sununu talks about Newt's "self-aggrandizement" as he throws out "a clever phrase that has no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership." Some might wonder why Gingrich frequently cites historical dates when discussing history. Is his objective to strengthen the message or to show off?

4. He is disorganized. Republican representative Susan Molinari reflects, "He loved chaos and even when he didn't create it knowingly or intentionally, he managed to leave it in his wake after every meeting."

5. He needs a better verbal filter. Senator Jim Talent said, "... you would get up in the morning, and have the to check the newspaper ... to see what the Speaker had said that day that you were going to have to clean up ..."

What makes Newt, Newt?

Power. According to the late Harvard professor David McClellan, humans are motivated by: achievement, affiliation and power. Those high in achievement typically golf with a scorecard because, as everyone knows, "the purpose of golf is to win." Golfers high in affiliation are offended by scorecards because, "the purpose of golf is to deepen personal relationships." Those high in power do not care about scorecards because, "the purpose of golf is to strengthen professional networks." All three play golf, but for different reasons.

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Gingrich has an unusually high need for power. The core motivation for people high in power is to have a strong impact on others. Positive behaviors include: charitable giving, volunteering, chivalry and even flirting.

But there are also negative behaviors. For example, playing King of the Hill. It is not enough to be seen as superior, it's also important that others are seen as inferior. Ask Paul Ryan.

Those high in power are attracted to power symbols such as relationships with important people, vacations to the Greek Isles or a half-million dollars in Tiffany jewels.

Those high in power like control. They change the subject during conversations. They prefer to drive to events rather than allow others to drive. And they tend to migrate to professions such as: consulting, teaching, speaking and writing.

Attention Deficit. Wikipedia describes adult ADHD symptoms as, "... often perceived by others as chaotic and disorganized." They have "trouble planning, organizing and prioritizing." They are creative and enjoy big ideas, but struggle with the detail needed to execute. They have difficulty focusing on one task and quickly become bored. And they don't listen.

ADHD is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. The chemistry that produces ADHD also creates dis-inhibition -- an inability to inhibit emotional outbursts. A core symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. They blurt out inappropriate comments, are easily irritated and likely to have relationship problems and serial marriages. Ironically, research indicates that aging also increases dis-inhibition. Imagine a 70-year old president with a very high need for power and ADHD -- a reporter's dream.

Has Newt Changed?

Personality changes very little throughout life -- it's part of our DNA. Numerous studies have shown that personalities of identical twins are far more similar than those of fraternal twins. Other studies have found that children's personalities are more similar to natural parents whom they have never met than to their adopted parents.

We are who we are because we came that way.

A meta-analysis aggregating findings from 152 longitudinal personality studies found that some personality change is possible in young children, but malleability deceases with age. In other words, the older, the crustier.

Has Newt changed? It's unlikely. Policy differences between Gingrich and Romney are negligible. Both men are "off-the-chart" smart. The real difference is how their personality affects the way they lead. A great idea, without leadership to execute, creates no value at all.

In the end, every leader must have willing followers. When followers turn on a leader, progress stops. We saw that last summer with Khadafy who, after 15 years of full control, suddenly went from predator to prey. We saw it with Gingrich in 1998 as he fled ahead of a Republican coup and again last summer when most of his senior staff resigned.

The core question should be, "How did Gingrich lead Congress last time?" Because the Newt that was is the Newt that will be.
Hall is managing director of Human Capital Systems (, a firm that designs systems for improving workforce performance. He is also an instructor in Duke Corporate Education's teaching network and author of The New Human Capital Strategy. Hall was formerly a senior vice president at ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam and IBM Asia-Pacific's executive in charge of executive leadership and organization effectiveness. During his tenure, IBM was twice ranked No. 1 in the world in Hewitt/Chief Executive magazine's "Top Company for Leaders." Hall completed his Ph.D in industrial-organizational psychology at Tulane University, with a dissertation on people management practices of Japanese corporations.

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