The CEO President

I’m a little late in writing this, but let’s at least get the thought down on paper (screen?) while Bush is still in office.

During his 2000 campaign and since, much attention has been paid to President Bush’s MBA from Harvard , and the fact that he would be our first “executive president.” This attention focused on the president as CEO, and on Bush’s time in business; in short, it focused on executive competence.

This is a fine idea in theory: management skills are nice in an executive, and it would be good for the president to manage and lead effectively. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that a CEO who is great in the board room might also be great in the White House. I imagine that many Americans would welcome Jack Welch as president.

But the thing is, not all CEOs are actually good at their job. Some are excellent and some suck. Some are terrible managers, or lack vision or strategic skills, or are simply not that bright. Anyone who has spent time in business has seen CEOs who probably shouldn’t have been in that role, but were promoted because they were great salesmen or played politics well or had the right connections.

I knew a bad CEO once. He was in over his head – too young, without enough experience to legitimately be in his position. He wasn’t able to manage the company’s fast-growing organization, let alone lead it. He didn’t have vision, and was unable to develop a strategy that made sense in a dynamic competitive environment.

He actually knew he was in over his head, but refused to admit it. Instead, he got defensive, digging in his heels and refusing any advice or suggestions, whether from employees or from outsiders. The company was essentially paralyzed by the CEO’s inability to manage it. We were unable to develop new products and eventually went bankrupt.

The parallels to President Bush are clear. He too is in over his head, and is defensive and dug in. He seems utterly immune to outside opinion and is making bad decisions as a result. Strategy appears beyond his capability, as does the ability to learn from mistakes. Even his reputed executive competence is a fiction, as Katrina and Iraq have demonstrated.

Using the term “CEO president” is meaningless. What matters in the White House is leadership and vision and competence, not whether someone has been a CEO or has an MBA.

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3 responses to “The CEO President

  1. Good post.

    To put a slightly different spin on it, management does not equal leadership. The President needs someone with seriosu mangerial skills as his/her chief of staff; that person then needs to manage up as well as down, ensuring that the President has enough space to think as well as react.

  2. Good point. Also, the presidency is not like a CEO job, since key parts of our government are outside of his chain of comman.

    Imagine a CEO president who wants Americans to build the next-generation Prius, but he has Congress to work with, not an engineering department. Instead of hiring a new VP of engineering and assigning him to assemble a team and build a spectacularly efficient car, our CEO President is reduced to making a television appeal asking customers (voters) to hire the right VP and then direct him to build that car, and then signing off reluctantly when the bum they did hire presents his plan for a set of roller blades and a non-functional clock radio.

  3. Both of the above are great points, and kind of feed off each other. The president doesn’t necessarily need to be a great manager, as long as he has a good COO (chief of staff). And while the president isn’t head of a command and control organization, good managerial skills can at least help manage the clusterf*** that Cornholio describes.

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