Just Above Sunset
May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous)
A few weeks ago in the magazine - Volume 2, Number 16 of Sunday, April 25, 2004 - Joseph, our American friend in France, commented –
By the way, now that this thing has turned into the fiasco that most of us said it would, I wonder what your "unnamed friend" is saying these days... Hey, the mistake is understandable. We're a nation that admires CEOs, we wanted a CEO president. Now that the nation and the armed services are being run efficiently, like a proper corporation (just forget how far we're in the red) I hope that we're all happy with the result.
And I commented that Bush
said he'd run the country as a CEO would, and Bush does have an MBA of course - but every company he was involved with went
under. There are CEO's - then there are CEO's.
Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely. He does not seem to demand better answers, or any answers, from those who serve him. It's not even clear that he understands how bad the situation in Iraq is or how close he is to losing public support for the war, a support that once lost may be impossible to regain.
Does that sound like a
CEO to you?
Bush styles himself a "CEO president," but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals
they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them —
but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it. They insist
they want a realistic plan, but they're unwilling to do the hard work of creating one — all those market research reports
are just a bunch of ivory tower nonsense anyway. They work hard — but only
on subjects in their comfort zone. If they like dealing with people they can't
bring themselves to read all those tedious analyst's reports, and if they like numbers they can't bring themselves to spend
time chattering with distributors about their latest prospect.
So, you don’t have
the skills, experience, or personality to look beyond your own instincts and you’re in a leadership position? What do you do? Delegate… and hope.
One of the things I've found difficult about writing about Iraq in recent days is imputing some
level of seriousness to the arguments of the president and his retainers who continue to press an optimistic view of what's
happening in Iraq. From them, on any given day, you can still hear the argument
that, notwithstanding some tough days, things are still getting better in Iraq and the key to success is sticking with it.
Yeah, well, don’t
hold your breath, Josh.
There's all this talk about what might be the best critique of the president's policies (politically and substantively), what the best alternative policies might be, and so forth. But all of that, I think, misses the point. This president is too compromised by his deceptions, his past lack of accountability and his acquiescence in failed policies, ever to correct the situation. Like C.S. Lewis's metaphor about the road to hell being easy to walk down, but the further walked, harder and harder to turn back upon, this president is just too far gone with misleading the public, covering up and indulging incompetence, and embracing venality ever to make a clean break and start retrieving the situation.
President Bush styles himself as the first CEO president, applying the rigor and authority of
his MBA education to the job of chief executive of the nation.
Well, many argue a bias
for action is a good thing. Remember the words of Marge Simpson - "We
can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." The man has no French in him.
Greenstein said that one striking thing about all three books was what they don't show. There are few examples, for instance, of Bush presiding over meetings in which subordinates presented problems,
weighed evidence and aired differing views.
Distressing? Perhaps. But “informed decision making” is probably overvalued. That concept is not as important as resolve and determination. The guy from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business explains – Bush is not following what everyone teaches these days in business school, but rather is being what people EXPECT a CEO to be – without the messy details.
Stanford's Kramer said though Bush showed little interest in the kind of number-crunching analysis
taught in business school, his style of management does conform to the popular image of chief executives as forceful and "decisive."
"There seems to be a lot of value attached to showing resolve and demonstrating resolve," he said.
Foolishness? Bush is not following the Havard Business school methods, or the methods most every CEO actually uses?
"He doesn't like long meetings. He likes truncated meetings. That means you're not going to have the kinds of sessions … that are going to bring in lots of different kinds of information."
So? Who needs it?
"The decisiveness part is certainly there. The imperviousness to facts and analysis is also there. So what we have is someone who is going on raw instinct."
So? Facts bog you down.
”Bush appears to rest his confidence in a few people whose judgment corresponds to his gut instincts. He seems to be obsessive about being decisive, but willing to make hard and fast decisions on the basis of ideology more than evidence."
So? He believes in what he is doing. Folks like that about him.
All these people from the top business schools seem to think the president would flunk out of their programs because although he plays at being a fine CEO, he doesn’t really get the quite basic concepts of what a CEO actually does.
But he’s president, and they are not, and never will be. They can chat with this Times reporter all they want, and complain Bush is giving every CEO in America a bad name. It doesn’t matter.
The bottom line – something you think a CEO refers to all the time as he leans across the conference table, sweeps all the paper aside, all the analyses and project plans and contingency documents and all that stuff, scowls at his quivering subordinates and growls, slowly and menacingly, “So, what’s the bottom line?” Great drama!
The bottom line here is that the nation prefers the “popular concept” of the decisive leader to the real thing. Image trumps substance every time.
Most folks would vote for Donald Trump for president if he ran for the office. And Trump has considered it. But Trump, to his credit, figured out that although he knows lots about real estate and finance and such things, and knows a lot about fading European models, as he tends to marry those when he can, he doesn’t know jack about running the most powerful nation in the world, about international relations and geopolitics, about the history and needs of our allied nations and those who give us trouble, about the ways congress passes laws or doesn’t, about the role of the courts and the constitutional questions that keep coming up – all that stuff.
George Bush never did figure out he didn’t know much of that stuff, and he doesn’t seem to want to learn it now. One would assume he thought that with his father’s old friends and advisors as his subordinates all around him that all of those pesky details really didn’t matter.
Some of us think they do matter, but like the business school professors, we aren’t the president and never will be. Heck, who would want the job?
This issue updated and published on...
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