Yep, I said “most.” Hang in there with me, I’m going to take a departure from the interviews, the difficulties
of project management, and turn towards something I recently read. In the early years of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson made a speech titled Leaderless Government that addressed the shortcomings of the American system of government. I thought it was appropriate not only in my blog, but in this day and age that over a hundred years ago America was facing many of the same difficulties in government we are now.
Wilson’s describes the American system of government not as dynamic and responsive but as “a government without definite order,” one in which inertia and the inability to act – today it is known as “gridlock” – are the most apparent features. This is something I believe we can all relate to when we consider our own personnel views of today’s government. It’s an incredible read and gone are the days of such lengthy speeches of such high quality. I only reference two very small portions of the speech below and they are intended to steer the conversation towards the concept of institutionalization and leadership.
I want to start off with an expert from a portion of the speech that centered in on the way the Founding Fathers chose men for the presidential nomination: “… putting those in authority who were their actual leaders, and to whom they looked for guidance whether in office or out.” This really struck me as something that lacks in our current system at any level. If you ask, any member of the current administration, any senator, or member of the house, to whom do they most admire or look to for leadership qualities? I would wager that a scant amount would respond with one of their fellow elected officials. Or if they did, would it be for the reason’s we would want to believe, or even in that loaded question would the answer be politically motivated? To drive that point home, I tried to answer that question for myself and the answer was a long list of scientists, scholars, athletes, family members, and no, not a single current elected official. Now, there is a line of past elected officials whose long lasting results place them in the halls of great leaders. But why is it that history that has to give them to us? While, in the meantime we search else ware, in different arenas, for that kind of leadership?
Wilson refers to the House as an: “… organization that provides for deliberate, and deliberative, action, and which enables the nation to affix responsibility for what is done and what is not done.” I recall once hearing, and I can’t recall where or on what platform, but it talked about this slow and lumbering machine that is our political system. The author was explaining how our Founding Fathers intended for the system to be exactly that, slow, and lumbering. Whether for a nation to affix responsibility or for check and balances, I don’t recall what the context was but it stuck with me. Ever since then, every time I hear of the gridlock that legislation faces in Congress, I’m reminded of that. Only recently have I started to question its validity.
Expert’s Input – After a quick search I found a piece by retired lawyer Dan Miller titled: The Government is Too Damn Big, Slow, Inefficient, and Intrusive. In it, he succinctly describes why the government is this lumbering machine. It also is an interesting read but his conclusion that “Government is very big and very powerful; it is also clunky and slow and … That’s the way it is, and it is not going to change, …” is pretty different to Wilson’s take who suggests how that change can occur. Some of which is plausible, some probably not feasible, but all of it very thought provoking. I’d like to conclude with this concept of Institutionalization.
This is a difficult topic for all leaders, or at least it should be. It is often referred to it as a theory but I would argue it is a very real thing. It is a difficult topic for leaders as it’s very hard to resists. Take for example a manager brought in to make sweeping changes to a department. Swept in on the wings of change, then once that change is implemented and things started to turn around, that manager finds himself falling into the same ruts as the previous manager he replaced. The point is, it’s a very difficult question to answer day after day, to maintain that level commitment to change asking constantly: “Is this the way we should be doing it? Can we do it better? Why are we doing it this way in the first place?” To fight against this as leaders we need to surround ourselves with people who can provide perspective and contrasting points of view. We should also include in our midst a devil’s advocate, one who’s not afraid to give us a dissenting point of view or tell us straight up we could be doing it different, or better.
As a leader or manager, we need to seek out the council of other leaders, those whom we respect and trust. In their council and in the council of those we’ve placed on our own team(s), we can fight concepts like institutionalization. We can continue to strive for the greater, the “What’s next?” Or, “How can we be doing it better?” The more groups, teams, and companies that build in this fashion, the more we’re doing our part in creating a public that is not satisfied with the statues quo, one that is proactive in doing something. One that is actively engaged in at least asking, is our current system broken? And if so, what can I do about it?
Citation: Hartwick Classic Leadership Cases: Woodrow Wilson’s “Leaderless Government”, Copyright 1994