Since taking office in January 2019, Mike DeWine has impressed people of all political persuasions with his leadership style. For our cover story (“Mike DeWine: Make Ohio Nice Again”), Statehouse insiders described DeWine to writer Bob Vitale as “gracious, friendly, pragmatic—even nice.” Which raises an interesting question in this day and age: Can such a polite, pragmatic style succeed in our divisive political climate?
The story’s publication comes just after the recent death of another important Columbus leader, whose approach was much different than the governor’s. In 1997, Dr. Clara Bloomfield, who died on March 1 at the age of 77, came to Ohio State University to lead its Comprehensive Cancer Center. She transformed what was then a struggling program, recruiting world-class researchers and establishing a culture of excellence that continues to this day—and is a big part of why the OSU Wexner Medical Center has emerged as one of the city’s most important economic engines.
And Bloomfield didn’t do it by being nice. She was tough, opinionated and demanding—a warrior leader and a female pioneer who was never afraid to challenge both her bosses and her subordinates. In med school in the 1960s, Bloomfield always sat in the front row of her classes, which raised eyebrows among her male teachers. “The dean called me into his office and rather curtly explained that sitting in the front row that way was unladylike,” Bloomfield told The ASCO Post in 2015. “I said, ‘When you become a lady you can tell me how to act like one,’ and walked out.”
Whose leadership style is better—DeWine’s or Bloomfield’s? The answer probably depends on the situation. But it’s clear to me that both share at least one foundational trait. Bloomfield would start her workday at 4 a.m. and finish around 7:30 p.m., recalls Dr. Michael Caligiuri, who was Bloomfield’s protégé and succeeded her as the leader of the OSU cancer center. Back when they both worked at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, she would conduct rounds for 12 hours while most other doctors would visit patients for three or so. “That’s how relentless she was,” says Caligiuri, now the president of City of Hope National Medical Center in California. The governor, meanwhile, has seemingly been everywhere since taking office, and friends praise him for his boundless energy and dedication to the job, which he says he’s been building toward his entire career.
In other words, whether you’re a peacemaker or a pugilist, you won’t succeed without passion for the work.