Vail Daily column: Taking care of government business
Reporters grill NFL players on playoff teams about what it takes to win the Super Bowl. Gridiron stars respond with cliches: Take one game at a time; control all three football phases — offense, defense and special teams; score in the red zone; and take care of business.
“Taking care of business” also applies to leadership skills for corporation execs, parish preachers and U.S. presidents.
In the 1990s, employed as a turn-around consultant, I advised religious groups and chambers of commerce. When a chamber’s membership decreased or a church’s membership declined, their leaders hired me to coach them on how to take care of business that prospered.
Why was it easier to change the business trajectory of chambers than dying churches?
Management consultant Peter Drucker, who worked with Fortune 500 corporations, helped me find the answer. Late in his career, Drucker analyzed nonprofits such as religious organizations and social service organizations like the Salvation Army.
Speaking at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Drucker remarked that running a corporation was easier than running a church. He said many church-attending business execs get exasperated at church meetings that run on and on. No one is empowered to make the key decision. Businesses meet to decide; church groups often meet to meet again. They skirt using measurable bottom lines. How do you measure the effectiveness of spreading friendship and giving a shut-in hope?
Efficient corporations take care of business because CEOs hold power to shape strategy, fire and hire staff, plus assemble teams paid to produce. Corporations coalesce power at the top with CEOs and get things done.
In contrast, churches by design are inefficient. Preachers don’t possess authority to make major decisions; church boards composed of laypersons do. Before decisions are made, much time is spent getting parishioners’ input. Preachers can’t fire malcontents who don’t endorse the majority’s growth plan. Taking care of business takes time with a church’s volunteers.
Corporate CEOs decide; preachers negotiate.
President-elect Donald Trump convinced voters he could successfully run government because he succeeded in business — HUGE, as he likes to brag. What he hasn’t told the American public is that politics isn’t business. The federal government is set up in a messy way, with traditional inefficiencies because the founders distrusted empowering a president with authority of a benign dictator or a CEO. A president can’t fire members of the House of Representatives. He can’t demote Senators. He can’t move unilaterally and disregard elected officials.
An accomplished CEO, Trump has fired naysayers who oppose him. That’s how he takes care of business. Opponents are his enemies. He mocks by name-calling. Remember how he knocked “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.” Such smears work on campaigns, but a president needs negotiating skills to work with people who insult him.
‘Now he’s going to sit in that big office’
In a book on productive business managing, Drucker describes what President Harry Truman said after Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded him in 1952. As general of Allied Forces in Europe, Ike wielded far more power to decide than any president possesses.
“Poor Ike,” sighed Truman. “When he was a general, he gave an order and it was carried out. Now he’s going to sit in that big office, and he’ll give an order and not a damn thing is going to happen.”
Trump barks to voters, “I am your voice!” That’s a corporate exec boasting, who overlooks that House members and Senators didn’t lose their voices when Trump was inaugurated. Sounding like a sultan of supreme wisdom, he declares, “I alone can fix it.”
Frustrated Trump can blame James Madison and Thomas Jefferson that a president doesn’t lead by decree. These founders distrusted power concentrated at the top. Jefferson protected a majority’s voice; Madison fought for constitutional safeguards of minority voices.
Jonathan Rauch’s “Rescuing Compromise” in the National Affairs quarterly tells why Madison’s constitutional directives slowed decision-making, gleaned input from many sources, promoted strenuous debate and governed through mandated compromise. These ways of doing business in government are new for hard-charging CEO Donald Trump. He’d rather tweet orders.
“Forcing actors to bargain and collaborate [as Madison and Jefferson did],” declares Rauch, “slows precipitous change while constantly making negotiators adjust their positions. …The requirement to bargain and find allies provides new ideas and entrants with paths into politics and ways to shake up the status quo. But the same requirement prevents upheaval by ensuring that no one actor can seize control, at least not for long.”
Even a Republican-dominated Congress doesn’t work for the president as CEO; public servants work together for constituents, like a pastor and parishioners taking care of business.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (http://www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.