The White House's (Mis)Management Style
Washington Post Business and Economy Columnist
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; 11:00 AM
Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein was online to talk about his latest column, in which he says the Bush administration's Iraq policy is fundamentally a story about management failure and a corporate leadership style that the first MBA president and his crew of former CEOs brought to Washington.
Pearlstein's column: "War Management Follows the Wrong Corporate Model."
A transcript of today's discussion is below.
Steven Pearlstein writes about business and the economy for The Washington Post. His columns on the economy appear every Wednesday and Friday.
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How curious that you came up with this idea - listening to Rumsfeld taking responsibility and accountability but refusing to actually take any penalty such as resignation reminded me immediately of Enron, Worldcom, etc., where the little guys got canned and the big guys walked away with millions.
Do you think that the same lack of ethics that permeated the corporate world these people came from has been transplanted to this Administration?
Steven Pearlstein: Thanks for that question, because it points out how careful we have to be in having this conversation and drawing parallels. First, the perverse incentives at Enron and WorldCom are not in play because you're not dealing with big monetary awards to individuals. And at the most superficial level, we're not exactly talking about ethical violations at the top of the military and the Pentagon. This is a matter of competence, as far as I can understand it at this point, management competence. Now I don't know that Rumsfeld should resign or not.I'm inclined to say no at this point, largely because it won't solve the fundamental problem that I sketched briefly in today's column, which is that there is a management culture that needs changing. You can resolve to change that without firing Rumsfeld. And you can also fire Rumsfeld and not change the management culture, which also won't accomplish anything. So in that respect I have to ask if Rumsfeld's firing isn't really a diversion. I'd feel better if I saw Rumsfeld rolling up his sleeves and getting into it the way Jack Welch would have done, rather than resigning. But I note that, so far, he hasn't done either, but just complains about not having enough facts yet.
I really enjoyed your article. It seems like Bush thinks that words speak louder than actions. People are criticizing Rumsfeld, so Bush says he's done a "superb job." In so many ways, Bush has downplayed problems by minimalizing large issues (the Iraq prison abuses were done by "a few," O'Neill and Clarke were "out of the loop," etc), molding them into something positive (Saddam didn't actually have WMD, but he was a bad man and we removed him from power), or largely ignoring them (intelligence flaws, holding off on formation of the 9/11 Commission, etc.). Do you think this process causes the American people in general to not fully realize the significance of these problems?
Steven Pearlstein: You raise an interesting question. Did Rumsfeld and others simply not understand the importance of information that came onto their radar screen earlier on? Or was it that because the information did not conform to their world view or their priorities, they chose to ignore it? The same could be asked about some of the terrorist intelligence before 9/11. I don't know the answer to those questions. And when I put it to Noel Tichy, by the way, he said he wasn't sure either, based on his corporate experience. In other words, did Enron's Ken Lay not understand the gravity of the information when Sharon Watkins sent him the note? Or did he not want to hear it? I don't think the answer to that is self-evident, by the way.
Thank you for doing what so few in the media have had the temerity to do -- hold the President accountable.
This administration thus far have attempted to deflect criticism of President Bush by doing one of two things: (1) having his subordinates attack the messenger (see, e.g., Clark, O'Neill, Wilson), and/or (2) claiming the President was uninformed. But few in the media have had the spine to ask, "Why didn't he know?" If this were any other president, right wing blowhards (Limbaugh, Coulter) would be screaming into their microphones (more than they do now) about holding the president accountable.
Why has the press let him get away with this? Has the media has set such a low standard for the President because they think he's too obtuse to answer the tough questions?
Steven Pearlstein: That's a good question, although the second part is just off base. I don't know what it is about liberals and this notion that we in the press are patsies or fellow travelers with the Republicans. Look, reporters tend to be liberal and Democrats generally, but more importantly, we tend to be cynical people who question authority and get our jollies holding people in power responsible. There have been few opportunities for feeding frenzies that we have passed up, trust me on that one. And yet if there is no smoking gun, the conventions of hard-news, objective journalism prevent us from going hard at people for sins of omission (as opposed of commission). Columnists can do this but for reporters it is very hard. Your question also ascribes much, much, much too much power and influence to right wing blowhards, as you call them.
Silver Spring, MD:
This is a comment only. I feel validated by your article. I've been saying this to my friends since 2000. The particular effect of this I saw in the 2000 race was that Bush and his corporate team understood better than any political team (although politicians understand it pretty well) that the facts don't matter. He got elected on such a strategy and he has pushed his policies through congress and the public by relying on manipulation that goes well beyond political spin. Something akin to cooking the books. But it's not just numbers that he's cooking and it's not just money that's being lost. The cost is American and Iraqi lives. And the debt burden for the future. And most perniciously, he is undermining democracy through his contempt for open debate, free press, and an informed public.
Steven Pearlstein: Thank you for that comment. I'd add only one area of disagreement: they've actually got very little through Congress aside from their Iraq resolution and their tax cut, and that is because their particular style of management doesn't work well with an unruly and uncooperative board of directors (i.e. Congress). Their management style works well with rubber stamp boards of directors, which they wish they had but don't, even with the Republican majority in both houses.
Business and government use similar expressions, but they speak different languages. As an MBA who has worked in government for 20 years, this I know. All of us would like to swoop in like Jack Welch, but cannot in government because of countervailing power of bureaucracies, other branches of government, the press and the public. Thinking Americans, from founding fathers to today, feared efficient government's threat to liberty. They created inefficiencies. The system works as designed and better than any of the alternatives, despite its flaws.
As a bureaucrat myself, I recognize Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neil. They make proposals they know can't be implemented at the time or in the way they advocate. Then they give themselves the benefit of the doubt in hindsight. We should be skeptical.
As far as managing the rusty apparatus, the Bush Administration is the best I have worked under. Things take time. What happens in the first months of a new administration comes largely from the last administration's decisions. If you look at the results since Bush's decisions have dictated them (roughly since October 2001) the record is very good.
Steven Pearlstein: Thanks for sharing that. Some good insights there, including the first one, which is that Bush can't do what Jack Welch could. But let me assure you, in both a symbolic sense as well as a substantive sense, they could have approximated such a response. Bush, maybe. But certainly Rumsfeld. He should have flown with a small crew to Bagdad, set up court and did some tough interrogating himself, right there at the prison, and not just of the privates and the corporals, but the military intelligence brass. And he should have had General Taguba right at his side, with a big new medal on his chest. That's how you tell your own people, and the rest of the world, how serious you are about getting to the bottom of it. And then he should have flown back to Washington and asked for a closed door hearing of the two armed services committees and given them his full, frank, candid and classified report. That's how a good public manager would have handled that.
Corporate American has a plethora of learnings from its mistakes over the years. Alas, I see very few of those learnings present in the current Bush administration. Instead, cronyism; a failure to trust in your in-house subject matter experts; a fatal lack of planning and risk mitigation when entering into large projects as well as contract favoritism that would only be allowed in the most lax/corrupt of private enterprises, prevail.
Steven Pearlstein: Amen.
I was thoroughly unconvinced by your column on the Bush administration's management style. You are obviously a partisan, and are trying to somehow use your column on business issues to bash the administration. But I just don't see the connection. Particularly, I don't think the recent prison abuse scandal was the result of a too rigid hierarchy. Actually, the opposite appears to be true. And can you please come up with a more original thought than to say that the administration doesn't apologize enough. Does any politician apologize except after some really bad personal scandal?
Steven Pearlstein: Well, since we're being frank and honest, your comment that I am a partisan is simply horse manure. You don't know me and don't know what I have to say about John Kerry or the Democrats. You'd be more effective questioning my judgment than questioning my motives. As to the cause of the prison abuse problem being too rigid a hierarchy, I never said that and am not aware of anyone who has. Quite the opposite: the military has handled this quite well since the private lodged his complaint. It is the political level of the Pentagon and government that has handled itself badly since then. Further, it is not a question of apologizing, and I'm not sure I ever used that point. It is a question of understanding what THEIR responsibility for this was at the top. To send some assistant secretary of defense up to the Senate yesterday so he could recite all the written orders that had been issued declaring how the Geneva Conventions were to be followed simply begs the question. If that was so dispositive, then how come they were routinely, systematically, repeatedly violated, not just at one prison but at multiple facilities, including we learn this morning, in Afghanistan, in ways that were so similar that it couldn't be coincidence. And what responsibility should that assistant secretary,a nd all the others have, in not having put in place the kind of compliance and back-channel checking mechanisms to insure that their orders were being carried out. If any manager thinks the way to run a large, high risk operation is to send out written orders from headquarters and think they will be obeyed, they ought to be fired on the spot.
Chevy Chase, Md.:
Your analysis makes sense, but do you feel that the electorate is acting like shareholders? Failed CEO's can linger on at a company that is hollow and underperforming for many years. Individual shareholders are effectively powerless. It is up to large shareholders (Calpers, etc.) to put pressure on companies and their boards to make changes. Where is the analogy for that role in this example?
I would argue that a lot of "shareholders" continue to support this CEO in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary. Few ceo's of failing company's have that kind of protective denial.
Steven Pearlstein: Good question, although as you acknowledge, the analogy is imperfect. But I'd say taxpayers and citizens actually have more power than individual shareholders. We do have choices at election time.
Interesting and important column. Well, the past couple of years have not been good for the reputation of us MBAs (I am one). Is this just a function of the proliferation of MBAs? In other words, is there now just a higher probability of one of us getting into trouble? Or is there some flaw in the degree? Looking forward to your answer. I think it is the latter, by the way. I can't quite put a finger on it, but I had often felt some unease during my studies towards the degree. Was it the case studies? Maybe. The willingness to jump on any fad and, even more important, the constant search for new ones? Maybe. Ok, I am moving way of topic.
Steven Pearlstein: I don't think you're moving off topic at all. The question about training is a good one and, not being an MBA, I can't give you a very informed answer. I think the basic curriculums probably need to be adjusted to deal with some of these real-world dilemmas that get presented to people in business. But in the end, I think this is probably the sort of thing you can only learn on the job.
Mr. Pearlstein, Just imagine how The Harvard Business Review's "Case Studies" section would portray this administration -- it would not be a pretty picture. A prediction for the courses of action that the commentators would recommend: termination or forced retirement of those alienating the customer-base; multiple, sincere apologies from the top leadership for the severe mistakes that are now costing customer, employee and business partner lives; and immediate corrective action to ensure that the future loss of life is minimalized.
Steven Pearlstein: Maybe the editor is reading this and considering just such an approach, although it may be too partisan an issue for them, at least at this point.
Do you find any similarity between the management decisions on Iraq and those in companies such as tyco, enron, worldcom etc
Steven Pearlstein: At some of these scandal plagued companies, we know now that the people at the top were at the center of the fraud and ethical violations. That is not the case in the matters I was talking about in the column. So that is why we need to be VERY careful about drawing analogies. But in other instances, such as the investment banks, there were early warnings bubbling up and people turned a blind eye, and even now don't accept responsibility really. And that analogy is a better one.
Sometimes people harp on about government inefficiency and ineptitude, implying that corporate practices and a corporate mentality would improve productivity and lessen waste.
In reality, corporations are often just as inefficient and wasteful, and sometimes downright unethical.
Looks like Bush is running the government much like his businesses: full of unethical dealings. Our company (oops, "government") looks like a total shell game.
I guess this is what happens when you get a Harvard MBA for prez.
Steven Pearlstein: Are you suggesting it might be better to have MBA;s from College Park?
Is the Bush management style just clever way to erect a wall of plausible deniability around the President?
Steven Pearlstein: No, I think it is more about managerial competence.
Great column - but why only 650 words? I think everyone would benefit from an expanded look at this point of view, possibly in feature more. Give us more!;
Steven Pearlstein: Trust me, 650 words from me twice a week is all you want or need.
Ann Arbor, Michigan:
As I wrote in my biography of Microsoft's MBA-dropout Steve Ballmer, Bad Boy Ballmer, George Bush's 1974 class at Harvard Business School was so influential it spawned a 1998 book, The New Rules, by John Kotter, which didn't even mention the future president. Given that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs lack even undergraduate degrees, do you think that an MBA has become superfluous?
Second, a piece appeared in the Harvard Business Review a few months ago detailing why a Master of Fine Arts has become the MBA of the new millenium given that they're more difficult to get. Did you read the piece and do you agree?
Steven Pearlstein: I was just having breakfast this morning with a guy who runs a company here in Washington that makes senior loans to mid-market companies. Big success story. Anyway, I asked him what kind of people he hired. And he says he likes to hire law firm associates who, after 5 or 6 years, decide they really don't want to become partners and stay in the law for the rest of their lives, and are looking for something else. That's a pretty interesting market reaction to the MBA offering, don't you think. And yes I did see that piece about the MFA's and I find it intriguing if not fully convincing.
I want to pick up something you said about Bill Gates. There was a time when Bill Gates was convinced the Internet was not a threat to Microsoft's business. But Gates is a curious person who reads widely and takes two weeks off each year just to talk to interesting people around the world. And he wants and expects people within the organization to challenge his thinking. And as a result of that process of continually subjecting his "vision" in the marketplace of ideas, he changed his "vision" and decided Microsoft had to embrace the Internet. And that's a pretty good model -- a guy who is tough enough to have a vision and stick by it, even when some people criticize it, but also a guy who is open minded enough and curious enough and "paranoid" enough (as Andy Grove calls it ) to do a 180 degree turn when it appears he's wrong. Does that describe George W. Bush? Donald Rumsfeld? Dick Cheney? There's not a lot of supporting evidence that it does, in my opinion.
As an former military officer with an MBA your article was OUTSTANDING. You have succinctly identified the problem. How do you propose Mr Bush fix the economy, Iraq, No Child Left Behind, the budget deficit,etc
Steven Pearlstein: Thanks for the compliment but I'll pass on the questions about the economy, education and the budget. I have some thoughts on those, abut wouldn't presume to have the final answer.
Does bottom up management work for the world's largest government? Is the (mis) Management topic a journalist's view or a management guru's view (Jack Welsh G.E.; Peter Drucker, consultant -author; Tom Peter's are management experts - for example)? Regards, Ed
Steven Pearlstein: Well, I talked to a number of management experts before I wrote, some of whom were mentioned, others not. But I can tell you from having spoken to all of the gentlemen you cite over the years, none of them would have much good to say about George Bush's management style. I also want to emphasize that I wasn't talking exactly about a choice between top down or bottom up management. Jack Welch practiced good management, by and large, but it was an effective combination of both.
I think that the Bush White House management style goes beyond just the White House and has also infected the Cabinet agencies. At mine, the Secretary's office has come out with management plans, Blueprints for Change, and other panaceas that have relatively little input from the masses below who are held to a culture of accountability. Our Inspector General has found that many of these improvement items have not really been implemented but are listed as closed. This is very Bushian, proclaim the success in developing a plan and pooh pooh the failure to do anything with it as just the petty griping of employees who are not with the program.
Steven Pearlstein: I'm glad you brought that up, because if I had more space and time, I would have showed how this lousy management style is the root cause for the ineffectiveness of the domestic cabinet agencies and the entire economic policy apparatus.
Los Angeles, CA:
Rumsfeld reminds me increasingly of Dan Goldin, the former NASA Administrator. Goldin tried to reform NASA, but he was so rigid in his approach and so unwilling to listen to dissenters that he ended up leaving the agency in a complete mess. Rumsfeld's seems to be doing something similar with the Defense Department.
Steven Pearlstein: Interesting.
Analogies can be helpful but just as easily they can blind you. To me, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong in imagining the President of the United States as some kind of supersized corporate CEO. The public realm isn't like the private realm, and we diminish it when we assume without too much thought that it is.
Take the issue of secrecy. A corporate CEO may judge that secrecy (beyond a certain point) is a bad thing because it makes your internal communications too rigid, creates public-relations problems, and so forth ... but a president ought to judge that secrecy is bad because a government of the people, by the people and for the people must, on principle, live in the light, with the chips falling where they may.
Or take "responsibility to shareholders." A CEO is doing a good job if he delivers what the majority wants. But a president -- like FDR urging us to get involved in that big European war, or Democrats from Truman through Johnson promoting civil rights -- often has to educate the majority on what it doesn't want to know.
The worst thing about our first White House CEO -- in my view -- is that we were stupid and narrow enough to imagine the White House needed a CEO. Your thoughts?
Steven Pearlstein: You make some good points, with useful warnings, but I think you push it too far. Probably the better word here is leadership, and good leadership is very similar no matter whether you are talking about government, business or the non-profit sector. Obviously, the tools and the conventions and structures are different, and leaders have to adjust to those that are relevant to their environment. But there are more common elements than I think you are suggesting.
Falls Church, VA:
I agree with today's column as far as it goes. I think the real issue of concern is in two additional insights. First, it does not even appear that they are aware of just how serious these events are. Just run down the litany of items that the administration seems oblivious to, from global warming to the debt to Iraq - immune to available information seems to be the common thread.
Second, their response to what they do pick up seems even more disturbing. Rather than consider the best long term course of action, weighing all factors, my take on their approach is to ask the question: How do we do damage control and get on with our initial plan?
I have no idea where these people learned management, but when I was studying I was taught that adjusting to new information and constantly reassessing the path in order to take corrective action is a key. As is ample communication, objective assessment, integrity and willingness to accept responsibility and blame. They fail on all counts, but the complete lack of awareness and focus on self serving spin is by far the most disturbing.
Steven Pearlstein: Well said.
New York City:
I have run one of the 3 largest Ivy League B-school MBA alumni clubs for the last few years, and am constantly amazed by how ideological many senior MBA alumni are about the Bush ideology. All our economics, strategic analysis and market experience just does not matter when it come to remaining a staunch defender of the many awful and unbusinesslike policies of this administration. I have begun to tell many business friends that I now consider this Bush administration to be a Soviet Politburo redux - political, deceitful, dishonest, secretive, nationalistic, arrogant, uninquiring, acting illegally, punishing to inquirers and any who are disloyal, ... caring more about politics and party than the national interest.
A Finance independent voter who cares about good policy and not parties.
Steven Pearlstein: Hey, would you like to fill in when I go on vacation. You're good.
Dear Mr. Pearlstein,
I liked your editorial today. I had a psychology professor at Yale who documented exactly the phenomenon you described and wrote about it in a book called "victims of groupthink". The phenomenon also includes self-appointed mindguards who make sure that the ultimate decision maker never hears dissenting points of view. My professor, Dr. Irving Janis, was able to connect this pattern of groupthink with many high level decision catastrophe's in both public and private sectors. So your analysis seems right on the money.
Steven Pearlstein: You got that right. Boy, you folks are on a roll.
Everything I read is that Bush goes on gut not facts? I heard Clarke make a statement to the effect that he only wanted his brief is one paragraph? Is that correct?
Steven Pearlstein: Yes, I suspect that's right. And let's be clear: all great leaders have a big gut component to what they do. But gut uninformed by hard thinking and analysis and getting into the details on the most important decisions, that is just leadership malpractice.
Great article. I wonder if you have any evidence of the same behavior when Bush was a business man? The oil business is very risky, but it seems that Bush took a lot of risks with other people's money that didn't pay off. Similarly, for the source of his wealth -- the baseball stadium in Texas he built on government-appropriated land, it seems that he sold the public on benefits that accrued mostly to him and his friends, with taxpayers picking up the tab.
Steven Pearlstein: That's what Joshua Marshall meant when he referred to "cartel capitalism" in the Washington Monthly. You should get that piece.
Jack Welch describes a mutually exclusive set of personal characteristics between Leaders and Managers. Would you characterize Bush as a Leader or a Manager (although he may be neither in reality, but what is he closest to?)
Steven Pearlstein: He fancies himself a leader who hires good managers. But he's not, for the reasons we've talked about today.
Much has been made of President Bush's disengagement from the intricacies of the policy-making process. President Carter was accused of being too actively engaged in the details of his administration.
Is there a fine line to be walked between micro-managing and the completely hands-off management style endorsed by President Bush?
Steven Pearlstein: Its not so fine a line as you suggests. The gulf between Jimmy Carter's micromanagement and Bush's disengagement is very wide. Somewhere in there is a happier medium.
Hope you can survive the planned onslaught of the pro and anti W plants. To disguise my views, I'll try to phrase this neutrally.
If W is following an outdated MBA model or the model of a bad CEO, then what is a good model for a political CEO to follow? What are the characteristics of current B-School thinking that could apply to the presidency? Or is that your next column?
Steven Pearlstein: There are lots of well run companies, including many by MBAs. More to the point, there are well-led companies, which is probably more applicable. And the common characteristics include more transparency; openness to conflicting views and information from below, and from the market; top leaders who are engaged in implementation and are perceived to be engaged in implementation; humility; lots of walking around; strong efforts to fight against hierarchy.
Why do you left wing liberals, have to constantly impugn the honest, and integrity of President Bush? As a Canadian, who is ashamed of his country; I am proud of your President Bush; would that we had leaders of his ethical quality.
Steven Pearlstein: I don't think I impugned the honesty and integrity of our president. I impugned his judgment and management style and competence as a leader.
Irrespective of the wisdom or otherwise of invading Iraq the principal problem seems to be a total lack of planning and training in how to cope with the possible eventualities. There does not even appear to be any appreciation by the President and the Defence Secretary that there was this lack. Can the US political system correct this?
Steven Pearlstein: About as well as the British system, I suspect.
Isn't the management style you so dismissingly synopsize also used to good effect? It seems that sticking to a plan can be a good thing and that we only find it to be negative when something goes wrong, when it goes right we ignore it.
Steven Pearlstein: The management style I synopsize is all General Motors circa 1984. Much of the corporate world has since moved on to Toyota. That does not include the business types in the Bush administration, however (The one who had moved on, Paul O'Neill, lasted about 18 months.)
Silver Spring, MD:
Failed CEOs and failed presidents probably have many things in common. What could Mr. Bush learn from successful CEOs, though? That, in addition to degrees and connections, they have some solid record of achievement on which to base their decisions? That their trusted subordinates are chosen for their technical expertise, and not their membership in some ideological club? That they have a passionate need for information not satisfied by the sports page?
And so forth. Designating this dilettante as "the first MBA president" does a disservice to anyone who took or is taking seriously the pursuit of a professional degree.
Steven Pearlstein: I apologize for lumping W. in with the other MBA's. Call it literary license.
What about the positives? I would hate to think the Washington Post is solely engaged in Bush Bashing, has the President's leadership style had any success? Has the war on terror been fought successfully? Couldn't one argue that since every single day since Bush delegated Homeland security to Tom Ridge we have been 100% successful in preventing another terrorist attack in America? Where is the lavish praise? There have been successes and mistakes like there would be in any war or any administration. I simply do not understand how so much focus can be paid to a few incidents. If there were 5, 20, 100 or 200 prisoners abused, or even 1,000 those pictures will make the news everynight. The same people Bush delegated authority to also made it possible and opened up schools for hundreds and hundreds of Iraqi children. When will that receive even a fraction of the coverage this scandal has?
Steven Pearlstein: I want to include this comment in our conversation, even though I can't think of much to say in reaction other than I think you've missed the point of a 700 word column.
New York, NY:
I realize that lack of financial incentive is an important distinction between the Bush administration and corporate miscreants like Enron. But, isn't the political capital the Bush administration chases by using slip-shod accounting methods to characterize its purported accomplishments fairly analogous to pecuniary gain attained through similar methods in the corporate world?
Steven Pearlstein: Nice try, but I don't think it works that way. Sorry.
"that's a pretty good model -- a guy who is tough enough to have a vision and stick by it, even when some people criticize it, but also a guy who is open minded enough and curious enough and "paranoid" enough ... to do a 180 degree turn when it appears he's wrong. Does that describe George W. Bush? ... There's not a lot of supporting evidence that it does, in my opinion."
Your comment strikes me as a bit unfair. GWB came into office, after all, on a foreign policy platform that was isolationist in many ways, and famously rejecting "nation-building." Since 9/11, he's done a 180 degree turn. One may certainly argue over whether he's implemented the new policy well, but it's hard to contend that he's not open to changing the policy direction on a strategic level.
Steven Pearlstein: Well, I think you have to add the criteria, as in the case of Gates and the Internet, that he makes the right decision of when and where to make 180 turns. And the reason Gates got it right is that he was actually listening to lots of people with lots of different views and carefully analyzing the market information coming his way. Bush changed course because he wanted to attack Iraq and needed to rationalize it, so he came up with this fantasy about turning the Middle EAst into a laboratory for democracy.
I think that Bush's management "style" - if one can call it that - has less to do with his education than his social/economic background.
Does anybody really think he's a Harvard MBA? No, he's an aristocrat who's wealthy parents purchased his degree; Harvard is guilty only of cheapening their credential by pandering to a wealthy, powerful family, from whom substantial awards of public - and sometimes even private - funds flow.
One of the first principles of business school is that performance, variously defined, is what counts. Not style, not phony accents, nor cadres of well connected friends, but performance alone. Financial statements are one of the score cards by which performance is judged. Unfortunately, there is no convenient analog for Presidents, but if we were to consider say, some arbitrary amalgam of objective metrics, how would W. fare?
I submit that it would be difficult to find a yardstick that makes this administration look even mediocre.
Furthermore, the "process" for decision making seems hardly to account for performance. Or rather, they've redefined it as political expediency, as has been widely reported.
It's not the MBA attitude or approach then, that we suffer from, but a lack thereof, in which the press has tragically colluded in the struggle for access - and ratings. Thus the 4th estate has become an Arthur Anderson of massive proportion, and so failed both their constitutional and moral duty.
Steven Pearlstein: Interesting argument -- tortured, but interesting.
Falls Church, Virginia:
First, as an MBA myself, I think you are mistaken to suggest that Bush's style reflects an "MBA" approach. I think it as likely that Bush's style reflects his Yale education and other life experiences.
Second, regardless of where his style originated, I think you correctly identified Bush's management style. Your query about what the president should have done when he learned about prison abuses could have been posed regarding warnings of terrorist attacks in the United States. "You are the president of the United States on August 8, 2001 and you learn about terrorist plans to attack the United States. How do you spend your day?" Bush didn't bother to let this news interrupt his month long August vacation in Texas.
But I think your article begs the question, can a president change his (or her) style, or is it incumbent on the electorate to elect the person with the right management style?
Steven Pearlstein: In answer to your last two questions, the answer is yes and yes. I don't think they are mutually exclusive.
What about the other side? Couldn't one say that Clinton's style of talking endlessly, to anyone to solve every problem also can result in mistakes? Clinton even talked to Arafat, again and again about peace!; Most people don't think Arafat is a man of peace. Look at it this way, yes one can criticize Bush for not meeting with Richard Clarke because Clarke did not fit into his management flowchart, but Clinton's NSC did meet with Clarke and still didn't listen to him. ACTIONS MATTER TOO!; Who knows how different history would be if Clinton and his NSC had listened to Clarke in the late 1990's when he wanted to bomb and destroy bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan? (Instead Sec. Of State Albright's position of ?It's not a goodtime to be killing Muslims" ruled the day.) Although, you make a few interesting points, I really think you can find faults and benefits in any management style and I wanted to know if you had any comments on Bush's successes?
Steven Pearlstein: That's a good comeback. But here's the difference: Clinton is precisely the kind of leader who, because he is open and curious and is constantly paranoid and asking even interns what they think he ought to do, that when he makes a mistake he can change it. In the Bush model, the self-correction mechanism is not present. That is the danger.
Steven Pearlstein: Folks, this was fun and there are literally scores of comments and questions that will have to go unanswered. But our time, alas, is up. Keep reading. See you next week.
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