Some Election Day Thoughts on the Viability of Candidates

ivotedDid you vote today? Should you have? If your state was running an election and you voted, good for you. If your state was running an election and you decided not to vote, well, then I guess good for you as well. One of the great things about our country is the fact that you could decide to vote or not to vote. It’s totally up to you. It’s that freedom of choice that we as Americans have that a lot of other countries do not have.

If, on the other hand, you had the opportunity to vote and simply didn’t because you were too lazy to get off the couch to do so, well then shame on you. You missed a great chance.

I really enjoy voting. I always feel happy and elated after I finish. I know I’m one small voice in a very large conversation, at least I’m making the effort for that voice to be heard. I’m actually not that heavily into politics. I don’t spend a lot of time reading political blogs, or trolling through online news/media outlets that cater to my political leanings. I do enjoy reading Politifact because of the way they pick apart the issues. They always provide clarification on some of the finer and more complex details of these talking points. I also enjoy FiveThirtyEight, because Nate Silver is so good at what he does. That’s pretty much it.

That said, I have to confess that I have opinions on what makes a good political leader. (I’m thinking mainly of the Executive branch here.)

To state my opinion, I’ll use Massachusetts as an example. Today I voted for Governor of Massachusetts. My options were Martha Coakley (D) or Charlie Baker (R). No, I’m not going to tell you how I voted. What I am going to do is talk about each candidate’s background (at a high level) and explain why I’m not sure either of their backgrounds necessarily will lead them to be effective governors.

Let’s start with Charlie Baker. In the 2012 election, I lost count of how many times I heard somebody say “we need a business leader in the White House.” Let’s bring it down a level and focus on governor, often times the step just below President. Charlie Baker was in fact a business later. He was the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and helped turn it around when it was facing bankruptcy.

  1. Lots of people say that good business leaders would make great political executives. Here are my basic problems with that:
    A company executive doesn’t play by the same rules that a political executive must play by. If the CEO of the company doesn’t like the performance of someone in his company, he can fire that person. Yes, there might be some hoops to jump through when it comes letting someone go, there are Human Resource personnel to consult, but in the end a CEO has enough power to make those kind of personnel decisions. When you were the president, or the governor, you can’t fire people whose performance you don’t like. Sure you can fire your cabinet secretaries or your office staff, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. A political executive needs to get work done. To do that they need to work with their counterparts in the legislature. If the president doesn’t get along with his counterparts in the legislature, he can’t fire them. Both parties have to agree to compromise or, as has been the case recently, agree not to compromise, in which case nothing gets done.
  2. Another point is that company executive can enact policy is without necessarily having a consensus. Again, a business executive isn’t going to operate in a vacuum, and obviously they will consult with other officers and usually other outside entities such HR and Legal to ensure they’re not breaking laws or fail to be in compliance with federal regulations, etc. In politics, however, order to enact political policies, you must have that majority that you don’t need in a company.

On the flip side, I’ve heard people say that lawyers make the best politicians. After all, we are a law driven the society, and the policies, laws. and procedures that politicians enact are there to provide further governance for the people. Who best to understand the inner workings of how laws are constructed and work than a lawyer? Martha Coakley is a lawyer. Does that mean she is the best qualified candidate? Not necessarily.

  1. Lawyers, in addition to have a clear understanding of how the law works, also need to understand how to lead. Being a lawyer means that you understand and know how to navigate to labyrinthine bureaucracy at is the federal government. Just because you know the way out of the maze, doesn’t mean you know how to lead people there. Sure some lawyers, probably lots of them, have a lot of leadership ability and a lot of charisma. But the practical experience of running an organization, such as a public company, weighs an awful lot in people s minds.

So who makes the best executive? A governor possibly makes the best executive when jumping from state level to govern our country. That’s why you see so many governors eventually becoming president of United States. But that’s not always the case. We’ve seen deeply ideological governors become deeply ideological presidents. They weren’t necessarily the best or brightest, yet their popular appeal helped get them in.

No, I’m thinking something else entirely. Someone with a much different experience than lawyers and CEOs. I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to vote for a different kind of person.

The project manager.

This may sound weird and almost silly on the face of it, but hear me out. The primary role of a project manager is to take a group of people and lead them in an effort to deliver something to the business. If you want to get more technical, here’s the definition from PRINCE2:

A Project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.

It seems to me that a lot of the same characteristics that qualify a person to be a great project manager could also qualify them to be a great public official. Let’s focus on a few.

  1. In any given project there is an end goal in mind. I would argue that these would be the laws, doctrines, policies, and initiatives that presidents put forth as part of their administration. How many times if we heard someone say what they’re going to do in the first hundred days in office? “Oh yeah?” I think. “Do you have a project plan for that? Then how do you know you’re going to achieve it?”
  2. Any project manager work his or her salt is going to lay out the risks and issues associated with getting this job done. When you do this, you get a fuller understanding for where the most pressing problems are or may be, as well as the to monetize (and there for plan for) any problem that occurs. I would hope any political executive who is trying to promote some kind of change would do this.
  3. A project manager is going to be given a budget. And, if they’re any good, they’ll managed to it. If it seems like the project is not going to come in on time or on budget, they may have to go back to a governing body to explain what the delay is. This is basic project management stuff. In this case, the governing body would be the voting citizens of the United States of America.
  4. A project manager is going to assemble a team that is capable of getting the job done. These are subject matter experts, technical advisers, and of course, the do-ers. You can only have so many managers before somebody has to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. If the project manager surrounds himself with the right people, then the project moves forward in a smoother way than if it was their cousin Vinny or their brother-in-law Bubba.
  5. Lastly the project manager has to be able to lay down the law when necessary. Assemble a good team, trust them to do the work, guide them when they need it, provide direction when appropriate, and given them the smack down if it’s not getting done. The understand that they succeed as a team, but if they fail, it’s the project manager who has failed.

So why not look for candidates who have a strong background in project management? There have to be reasons why this is not a good idea. Let’s hear ’em. Comment away.

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