An interview with Jonathan Johnson on leadership

You can find an audio recording of John Mulholland’s interview of Jonathan Johnson at the bottom of the post.

I went to the campaign kickoff for Jonathan Johnson eager to learn why he was running for governor. I knew he had held some top positions with Overstock and wanted to listen to him speak. He gave the standard political talk but what was different was that he handed out a book and asked people to read it called Leadocracy.

by John Mulholland
by John Mulholland

I found a version on Audible and over the next week listened to it. Johnson phrased the election process as a hiring process and using the phrase hirejj for his website and hashtag. After finishing the book I asked if I could interview him like a job interview. He agreed.

I asked people on Facebook to submit non-political questions. If we should focus more on leadership than political positions, I wanted to make sure that he fit the qualifications.

To learn more about Jonathan as person I suggest you visit his website,

I first wanted to understand why he wanted to run and how he viewed success. He spoke about reading Leadocracy and making the commitment himself to run for political office. The premise of the book is that people with a lot of business talent should spend some time improving our community by serving in the government. Government agencies are viewed as very inefficient and with workers with low morale. I know that I have experienced this, especially outside of Utah.

Jonathan told me that he is very concerned about how reliant we are on the federal government for our budget. He wants to see two things; less reliance on the federal government and a contingency plan if we lose federal funding. He wants to see Utah manage its own affairs and thinks that Utah can do a better job than the federal government currently is.

He also explained that he wants to see term limits. In a one party state there isn’t the push and pull between two parties so it is much harder to get incumbents out of office. He thinks we could do better without career politicians.

I asked him if he thought we did well under the great recession. He thinks we did well but doesn’t necessarily give Governor Herbert the credit. He thinks that perhaps businesses created much of that recovery.

I asked him if leadership ability matters more than positions on political issues.  He said it is very important for people to know where you stand. But, we do better hiring proven leaders than ideologues.

Jonathan Johnson, chairman of the board and candidate for Utah Governor
Jonathan Johnson, chairman of the board and candidate for Utah Governor

There were a few questions that really showed me his ability to lead. I asked him how he can avoid the business mindset of ignoring unfavorable demographics. He told me that he always seeks opinions on all of the sides of the issues. That doesn’t mean that he will agree but that he will hear people out. He said that often you can find common ground and find a win for everybody. You do this by careful analyzing and not just knee jerk reactions. He told me that at Overstock he could have 1,800 paid friends but doesn’t want that. He wants people who are willing to disagree and tell him when he is wrong. He does expect though that after people have been listened to, ideas discussed, and a decision made that people get on board and work as a team. He has also spent a considerable amount of time in the rural areas of Utah to learn what issues matter most to them, even though there aren’t as many votes there.

We also discussed leadership style. He prefers to say yes to people after asking some tough questions. He wants to empower people closest to the problem to make the decision after doing their homework. Part of being a leader is being a talent magnet. Not only do you bring in good talent but you develop it locally. He told about the current president, Stormy Simon, who started as an entry-level sales person but rose through the ranks.

41wbyE+244L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I asked what he thought the proper role of a veto was. He explained that he thinks that his office is a vote of one. He thinks that the current governor does not veto enough and the legislature is creating too many laws. He explained that he will work hard to communicate with the legislature to ensure they know what he is hoping to see in bills. If he thinks it is a bad law, he will reject it.

He spoke about the many things that businesses try in order to be successful but when something doesn’t work they can easily change it. This doesn’t work the same with law. He wants to include sunset provisions in many laws. After the law is tried, it can be evaluated when the sunset provision comes up and it can become permanent, tweaked, or not renewed.

In closing I asked him what he though people aspiring to contribute to the community should do. He told me that people should seek to be successful outside of politics but also work on issues that are important to them.

Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent with Jonathan. I felt he is a well qualified leader and has the leadership experience and style to be a successful governor, if elected. He has the passion for issues but also wants to hear the perspectives of others and align people to solutions that will benefit everybody.

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