I believe that I know why Presidents of the United States (over the period of my memory and probably longer) have had difficulty delivering on a broad set of promises that they make while running for office. And politics is only part of it.
As bright and capable as many of them were/are, they do not know how to Manage—and that is, intentionally, with a capital M.
The Executive Branch of government was designed to define (with the concurrence of the Legislative Branch) the Federal Government’s agenda and then to:
- Undertake on initiatives to ensure that the government can do its job effectively and efficiently; and
- Execute on the routine operation of government.
Many elements of the Executive Branch (especially ongoing operations) are well managed because they have experienced managers who operate according to the principles I have outlined below. However, the Chief Executive has rarely delivered on more than a handful of the initiatives that they promised while running for office.
To explain why this is true, I will point out that the President has 15 direct reports. They include the Secretaries of:
- Health and Human Services
- Homeland Security
- Housing and Urban Development
- Veterans Affairs
And this does not include a laundry list of sub-agencies, Bureaus and organizations that reside in the Executive Office of the President.
McKinsey identifies five “managerial archetypes”— https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/how-to-identify-the-right-spans-of-control-for-your-organization . The President would fall into the category of Player/Coach or (probably more appropriately) Coach. According to McKinsey, the most a person in either of these roles should have reporting to them is five to seven individuals. That is the first problem. The President does not have enough time in the day to spend time with the people who are running the operational departments that currently need his attention.
The second problem is that the President does not realize that it is impossible to manage 15 direct reports, i.e., no President in my memory has been trained (or been in positions that give them the experiences) to be a competent professional manager. During my career I advanced, stepwise, from being an individual contributor to progressively managing larger and larger groups of people. Along the way I received training and plenty of coaching to ensure that I was prepared to take the next step in terms of the size of the organization that I would be managing. PricewaterhouseCoopers was (and I am sure still are) particularly good at developing managers. PricewaterhouseCoopers had rigorous career development programs that helped their staff prepare to succeed.
In many business organizations, I have observed that Chief Executives often have a Chief Operating Officer (COO) who is an experienced manager and who can take managerial load off the CEO. I believe that the position, Chief of Staff, was supposed to serve that function for the President, but has never been accorded the authority or given enough responsibility to successfully service that function. The Chief of Staff, seems to me, to be more of a gatekeeper. I don’t think that I am the only person to think that: Reference The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple. It is possible that the Vice President could play the COO role. It would have the added benefit of: 1) preparing the Vice President to take on their next logical role; and 2) giving the VP the opportunity to show off their capabilities.
Finally, it is not clear to me that the Presidency has the processes and procedures needed to promote independent operation by the President’ direct reports. To effectively manage an organization as large as the Executive Branch, key players need to:
- Clearly understand and agree to the goals and objectives they are expected to achieve. This takes planning which is facilitated by a robust collaboration between the President and his subordinates. This includes a time-consuming process of defining and agreeing on the goals and objectives. But not with 15 subordinates, especially if the Chief Executive wants to contribute meaningfully to the process;
- Giving the President’s reports the responsibility and authority to achieve their agreed goals and objectives, including a feedback system that facilitates the President holding them accountable for their performance;
- Undertake a thorough business process reengineering of the Executive Branch. This includes:
- Restructuring the organization to reflect the size and scope of the Executive Branch;
- Recruiting managers who can oversee an organization with more than four million employees;
- Revising management processes and procedures to allow delegation of authority, but also putting controls in place that hold managers responsible and accountable for their performance;
- Implementing information systems that provide the information necessary for managers at every level of the organization to effectively manage their domain.
Anyone who has spent any time around organizations of any size has probably seen at least some of the dysfunction I am describing here. And I hope many of you have seen some or all the recommendations listed here implemented at organizations you have been affiliated with. Two points:
- While I have said something that had to be said about the Executive Branch, these observations apply equally to business organizations; and
- Management is a skill. If you don’t have the skill, you can not manage effectively. And, the bigger the management challenge, if you are not properly prepared, the bigger the failure!
— you can find this (days earlier) and other posts at www.niden.com.
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