Do you wonder why someone with the leadership, management and business experience of Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman wasn’t elected this week? Especially Whitman, given California’s need to address its complex financial and government organization dysfunctions.
In the great mystery of politics, there are plenty of factors that get candidates into office. As a recent NPR analysis pointed out (click here to hear the story on Why CEO’s Can’t Get Elected), it may be that many business leaders aren’t qualified to serve in public office. I realize that neither of the individuals I mentioned had any political experience (a big hole in their resumes) but they had loads of management experience.
As much as we want a businessperson’s practical, business or finance-oriented approach to straighten out our government messes, many business leaders lack the leadership skills, broad perspective and relevant system experience needed to work in a political and government structure. In fact, their success and experience in business may be a liability when holding a position such as mayor, governor or member of Congress.
Corporate leaders have a cushy job compared to many elected officials. They can shut down a division that is losing money, cut staff quickly to “right-size” the company, or fire senior staff because they don’t “fit.” You can’t always do that in government. Executives can ignore stakeholder groups as long as it’s not the shareholders. No so in government.
Success in government calls for highly developed interpersonal skills, empathy, and the ability to view every issue from third-, fourth- or fifth-person perspectives. Too many business leaders can see in only two dimensions (us and them) and rely too much on their organizational power. Read Susanne Cook-Greuter’s research if you want to learn more about the topic of leadership maturity.
As much as we want to judge our politicians, they have some of the most challenging and least enviable jobs I can think of. They make me wonder if they are truly selfish idiots or simply in a job that would make the smartest person look like an idiot.