Tuesday :: Jun 1, 2004

Bush: The Failed Delegator And Manager

by Steve

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, Mike Allen runs a great piece on one of Bush’s major vulnerabilities: he delegates too much and is a lousy manager. Contrary to the spin put out by his lackeys, Bush is a crappy manager of people, all-too-willing to delegate damn near everything and content to tell himself that it is his job to only lay out the broad goals and priorities, and leave the details to others. But as the Bush management debacle has demonstrated, just because you are an intellectually-lazy, C-average MBA from the Harvard Business School doesn’t mean you will be a good manager.

Bush has failed as a manager and delegator for several simple but critical reasons. First, it’s important to remember that in order for such delegation to work well without blowing up in your face, the one at the top of the pyramid needs to have some intellectual curiosity to follow up on the things that were delegated out to others. A leader who delegates to get things off of his desk without caring or being curious as to how things turned out is not a leader, but simply someone who measures himself on how clean his desk is and not on whether he accomplished anything of substance. Bush’s presidency is rife with examples of a lack of follow-up from Bush or even basic intellectual curiosity. The most notable and tragic example here is the loss of 3000 Americans on 9/11 after Bush received warnings all summer long that something was coming. A truly great manager and leader would not have delegated such follow-through to others and then gone weeks without getting detailed updates on what was happening.

Second, in order to be a good delegator and manager, you must surround yourself with capable people who aren’t just yes-men, but who themselves can manage, have scruples, can clearly lay out expectations, hold subordinates accountable, communicate with staff effectively, and report up the chain what is happening to the boss. Does that description fit Donald Rumsfeld or Condi Rice for starters? I think not. If you are going to rely a lot on others, you also need to have staff around you who can do the necessary contrarian thinking so that all possible pitfalls are contemplated and to prevent groupthink from sinking the enterprise. Again, Bush’s presidency is the epitome of groupthink and hubris, and those who challenge the lockstep thinking lose their jobs, while those who are loyal incompetents hang on to theirs. Everything about the Iraq invasion and post war planning is a case study in groupthink and faulty assumptions, and this White House does not tolerate opposing viewpoints. In such an environment, delegation to loyal inflexible incompetents is a recipe for a failed war on terror, 3000 dead Americans on 9/11, over 800 dead soldiers in Iraq, the prison abuse scandal, an economy poisoned by deficits, and environmental degradation resulting from corporate and personal greed. In short, the message sent by this president is that you can fuck up and be rewarded.

Third, in order for delegation to work, there has to be accountability. Those to whom you delegate need to know not only that they have the power to succeed but that there is a consequence for failure. If there is no accountability, mistakes are repeated over and over again. Hubris and the unaccountability are reinforced. What you get are Abu Ghraib, Valerie Plame, and other catastrophes.

Fourth, you can’t be a good delegator if you weren’t a good manager in the first place. The mythology surrounding Bush is that he has been a success in business and politics to this point. But let’s be clear about some things. Bush was a failure in the oil business, proving more adept at losing other folks’ money than making some of his own legitimately. He used his father’s connections and the Saudis to bail himself out of the Harken mess probably illegally. He used Texas taxpayers to get rich from the Texas Rangers. And in a weak-governor state, it was Bob Bullock calling the shots as Lieutenant Governor that got things done during Bush’s first term, and not Bush himself. In fact, if you look at Bush’s tenure as governor you will find few successes that came about from his hard work in building coalitions and more examples of instances where he and his cronies bought what they needed. And remember that as of September 10, 2001 Bush was heading a failed presidency.

There should be no surprises that Bush’s flaws as a manager are becoming evident now. He was never a good manager in the first place.

Steve :: 11:45 PM :: Comments (17) :: Digg It!