As voters we live in the real world but continue to believe in a fantasy world.
The Republicans have scored a smashing victory; not just in taking control of the US Senate, but they have also scored gains all the way down the line to governors and state legislatures.
Most pundits suggest these results were driven more from frustration over Obama’s failed leadership than any worshipful endorsement of a clearly defined Republican agenda. Since such an agenda was actually nonexistent, the Republicans adroitly based the crux of their effective campaign message on being against Obama for his failure as a strong leader, rather than for anything specifically positive.
This is nothing new. Republican and Democrats have taken turns playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for 150 years now. The politicians in both parties know that American voters long for and will fall for anyone who promises to be that “the great leader” who will solve all their problems. The party on the “outs” also knows that the electorate will turn on any leader who disappoints them –and that always happens when they fail to solve all the world’s problems.
The problem is that the problems we face are very real: income inequality, immigration reform, unemployment, Mideast unrest, healthcare, just to name a few. But promises – while they have to be made – are pure fantasy. It’s not that those elected don’t want to be effective leaders – they do. The problem is that the Constitution is not structured in a way that allows a leader to manage and solve problems the way they are in the real world.
What I mean by this is that the Constitution allows for the election of leaders, but not managers, and problem solving demands both. The Constitution – with the concept of division of power – vests the president with the responsibility to lead the country, but not the authority to manage it. The president is not CEO of America and while the president can influence he cannot command; he cannot rule by imperial fiat.
As a result, being elected president requires promising the voters more than what he can, with any certainty, deliver. And promises made are just as often promises broken:
- President Franklin Roosevelt’s promise to keep the United States out of World War II . . .
- President Jimmy Carter’s campaign oath to reduce defense spending when, in fact, he raised it . . .
- President Nixon’s pledge that his “new leadership will end the war” in Vietnam . . .
- President (H.W.) Bush’s promise (“Read my lips”) not to raise taxes . . .
- President Obama’s vow to close the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay . . .
And the list of broken presidential promises big and small doesn’t end here. Virtually every U.S. president had retreated from the shaky ground they campaigned on, and broke some of the promises they made before taking office.
A Source of Great Frustration
Ultimately, voters are frustrated when presidents deliver less than what is promised. The voters then turn to those making the current promise hoping they can deliver. But that never happens—because it can’t. There is logic in this divided structure of government, because the alternative would be a monarchy or dictatorship, which would be even worse. But it does set up any president for failure, because to get elected they must promise to do what they don’t have the power to do and when he fails, it starts the circular fantasy all over again.
So what is point here? Well, for one thing, the business world is better positioned to offer a vision and achieve it, because the organization can take advantage of having both a leader and managers. However, it is important to understand the difference between a manager and a leader. When the responsibilities of the two become confused or mixed, problems follow. (Just observe ho government functions!)
Understanding The Difference Between Leadership and Management
There are those with the penchant to be leaders and those who have an affinity as natural managers. Both are important to the success of an organization, but there is a fundamental philosophical and operational difference that separates a leader and a manager. The leader and the manager have different and distinct responsibilities when it comes to influencing the success of an organization and if that difference is not fully understood and respected, the likely result is frustration, confusion and the ultimate failure of the organization. At the same time, success for both the leader and the manager are dependent on one another and if their efforts are not interconnected, both risk failure in their individual efforts.
In simple terms: A leader seeks to transform an organization by painting a vision of the future that both inspires and motivates others to work toward that objective. A manager has more of a “paint by the numbers” transactional mindset using detailed planning and specific tactics to complete the steps necessary to achieve the leader’s vision.
What is important to recognize is that the more “transactional” a person in a position of leadership is, the less likely he or she will be successful as a transformational a leader. Likewise, the more “big-picture” a manager is, the less likely he or she is to be successful as a manager. A transformational leader’s success is usually in direct proportion to his or her ability to communicate the idea, stay focused on the ultimate vision and show respect and concern for others in a way that inspires them to join together to achieve the vision. On the other hand, managers tend to be more successful when they focus more on process and procedure, with less concern for people issues.
These differences and the interdependence of leaders and managers is brought up here because it helps offer some perspective on why the Federal government seems so incapable of getting things done – especially big things – and being efficient. Maybe even more important, it helps us understand why presidents always seem to disappoint us as leaders. And the cycle has started all over again with the recent Republican victories.
And the Moral of the Story …
Transformation leaders and transactional managers both are necessary and play critical – if different – roles in the success of an organization. Without the ability to conceptualize and communicate a transformational vision that motivates all to participate in the outcome, an individual cannot be successful as a leader. Without the vested power to impose transactional process and procedure from the top, an individual cannot be an effective manager.
The simple truth is that these two different approaches to a challenge or problem must be interconnected and work together to achieve success. And if you need any more proof as to the veracity of this conclusion, all you need to do is look at the American political process.