The American presidency is seen as solely political. This expectation makes sense. Presidents are elected over the course of grueling, scorched earth campaigns. They are the ones that work the most politically divisive problems. Heck, a big part of their job surrounds other politicians. Presidents are the epitome of political figures.
But that doesn’t mean that their entire job is to drive politics. The president is the chief executive. They are the ones meant to lead and manage the bureaucracy. You know, the “boring” parts of government.
However, this important aspect of the presidency seems to have been lost. We’re electing leaders exclusively based on political points and personality instead of their proven ability to lead one of the largest organizations in the world. The federal government directly employs nearly 3 million people, not including non-civilian military. The president is responsible for all of them, yet this fact is largely ignored during elections.
Personally, I’ve always been more passionate about local governance- leading me to peruse a career in city management. City Management is a specialized profession with people dedicating their whole careers to making their communities better through effective management and the slow churn of bureaucracy. I love it, and I think the president, both in current and future administrations, can learn a lot from those that have dedicated their whole careers to managing government better.
So what are some lessons Presidents can learn from city managers?
They Commit to Data-Driven Decision Making
Good managers care about data, without it you’re driving blind. Using data well doesn’t happen overnight. Collecting good data requires investment in time, resources, and staff. Data has the power to weed through politically potent issues and provide clarity through seeking facts. This doesn’t happen if data collection and research is seen as something to cut.
Further, good managers don’t dismiss data they don’t like. They don’t politicize the numbers. A successful manager-in-chief takes those figures and dives deeper. They make effort to fully understand problems and possibly change their opinions based on proof. Even more, if they still hold an opinion despite evidence against it they do not dismiss the evidence as false. Instead, they acknowledge the evidence head on and articulate that they still hold their opinions because of the core values they hold.
They Understand Things Can Be Complex
An effective manager-in-chief doesn’t insist there are easy solutions to all problems. Instead, they understand that anything that comes across their desk made it there because it is hard and complicated. In this they are able to articulate that easy solutions to these problems don’t exist.
An honest way for a manager-in-chief to earn the respect of their coworkers and the American people is to acknowledge the validity of multiple view points. In turn they are also able to articulate the pain points, demonstrating a deep understanding of a problem’s complexity and history. This effort can further add validity to their opinion as it proves they have taken all views and evidence into account.
They Care About Motivations
Building off an understanding of complexity is an appreciation for why people believe what they believe. A president that makes an effort to learn about people’s values and why they hold those values would make an excellent manager-in-chief. In general, we do a bad job digging into people’s values in an effort to understand them. Instead, we either A) make assumptions about people’s backgrounds and belief structure or B) don’t care.
A president that demonstrates an effort to learn and understand why people believe what they believe can make better decisions and create buy-in from their employees and citizens. Acknowledging the other sides’ beliefs matters, especially when making a decision that they wont be happy about. An effort like this would at least demonstrate that the manager-in-chief took serious consideration to their concerns instead of dismissing them instantly.
They Allow Dissent
Effective managers allow their employees to disagree and give them outlets to voice concerns. Attempting to muzzle bureaucrats in an effort to mask dissenting opinions leads to an ineffective workforce. Further, people that work in public service often don’t do it for the pay or the benefits, they do it out of a deep desire to serve their home and fellow Americans. This motive makes them more likely to leak information or go behind the backs of superiors when they have fundamental disagreements with the organization’s direction.
A successful manager-in-chief would give outlets for dissenting opinions to be expressed and would actually listen and take concerns to heart. Hearing and acting on concerns can create a stronger and more impassioned organization.
They Invest in People
A good manager-in-chief doesn’t see the bureaucracy exclusively through the lens of bloat and waste. Instead, they see great potential in a body of committed public servants. They unite all their coworkers under a shared vision and invest in their abilities. Instead of using government workers as a punching bag they instead dig to the true heart of problems and recognize what their government is doing right. Instead of just getting by the ideal manager-in-chief would focus on making government competitive with the private sector in order to hire the best talent our nation has to offer. They would create a culture of tradition, inclusion, fun, and fulfillment.
In the end, a successful manager-in-chief cares about people. They care about constant improvement and see potential and pride within their organization. They recognize the office of the presidency is bigger than them and make every effort to raise the bar for their predecessor to follow.