Monday, May 20, 2013

Drama Kings & Queens Need Not Apply

Crisis leadership is not leadership at all

I wish I could remember the author, but I saw a statement the other day that was simultaneously true, maddening, and depressing: that the rise in political crises must mean that our economic crisis is coming to an end.

The current political "scandals" – you know what they are – arise from a lack of leadership. Just as no business is an overnight failure, government fails because someone planted bad seeds or fell asleep at the wheel. (Sorry for the lousy metaphors.) For instance if the fuss is over what organizations are allowed to get a tax break, maybe there shouldn't be any tax breaks in the first place. If there are questions about preferential government loans, maybe there shouldn't be any loans. If there is some scandal in some backwater of government, maybe we need a government that's narrower so that it's actually governable.

Economist Paul Romer said, "What we need is not bigger or smaller government for growth, but narrower and stronger government.” And this is true for good governance as well: strong institutions with narrow focus keep excess and mischief in check. Good companies have strong managers with good foresight and a product/service portfolio that's limited to what that company does best. No thanks to Congressional indecision and inaction, America's economic recovery is stronger than Europe's (no rub, just sayin'). But think how much better we'd be doing if we actually had a well-defined plan, some direction, and less drama.

Drama, complexity, and inaction seem to go hand in hand. The House of Representative takes repeated votes to abolish the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without ever attempting to fix its shortcomings and the uncertainty it poses. Similarly, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is an enormously voluminous piece of legislation that's exceedingly complex and poorly understood. (Read The Dog and the Frisbee, a call for simplicity in financial regulation.) Our income and corporate tax codes are inequitable, inefficient behemoths that dole out favoritism to the detriment of everyone. There's so much drama, indignation, and indictment that there's little time for thoughtful action.

The problem with most politicians is that they know only politics – not leadership, governance, and organization. Winning an election is not leadership. Pandering is not governance. Campaigning is not organization. Politicians win elections by trying to be everything to everyone, parsing voters into targetable segments. Government fails when politicians paint it with that same broad brush.

So the next time there's some sort of political scandal or crisis, look at your elected official and where they're pointing the finger of blame. It's unlikely that they'll point to the flawed constructs of government that they themselves built. That's when voters need to point down a different, straighter, narrower path.