The Unprepossessing Mr. Ryan focuses on the character attributes, philosophy, political skills, and administrative activities of William A. Ryan, Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives from 1969 through 1974 and a House Member from 1958 through 1982. The author attempts to show that administrative virtue in legislative leadership is best described in terms of utilitarian ethics, the ability to control and manage factionalism in the interest of incremental change, rather than following the idea that an adequate understanding of exemplary legislative leadership must account for the significance of character ethics, attributes that form an essential part of the leader's moral authority. Through this study of Mr. Ryan and three other House Speakers, the author discovered that exemplary legislative leadership may best be understood in terms of the leader's ability to facilitate sustained democratic discourse characterized by a meaningful representation of and input from all affected stakeholders; civility and compromise among political leaders who may strongly disagree with one another; and policy resolutions that, though imperfect, reflect lines of convergence on what public values are and ought to be.
Barbara A.K. Adams is Assistant Professor in the School of Public and Nonprofit Administration at Grand Valley State University.