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Qualifications for Leadership

At this time of impending elections, I think it warrants discussion about leadership and what qualifications may be essential. Much has been written over the centuries regarding this matter—including, of course, the most recent of current events. However, I want to focus specifically on our US elected officials’ claims for qualification based on their perspective of control.

The first are claims made by some that their experience in business is the best qualification because they are used to administering decisions regarding a wide variety of demands for a product and meeting those demands. In brief, the demands are the needs and desires of the consumers and the product is the goods and services for meeting those needs and desires.

The second are claims made by others that their prior experience in elected public service is best because they too have experience administering decisions about people’s needs and desires but being met through services from governmental agencies instead. So, what’s different? How are the claims by each to be evaluated?

I think that rather than descending into endless arguments of “cleaning out the swamp of Capital Hill,” past individual business successes and failures etc., a better approach is to look at the viewpoints of each regarding control. How does the business or public service perspective influence and prepare each for doing their job? I believe they are quite different.

At the levels of business administration, control is focused on one entity—the success of the business as measured by its financial success, making money. Analogies can be made between their customers and the nation’s populace as a whole, that both must be served in order to be successful. However, such analogies do not take into account the fundamental difference that businesses cater only to those who can afford or desire their product; public services must cater to all members of the population.

The importance of this is that a business person is used to giving top-down orders of control to employees and expecting them to be carried out with respect to specific customers only. However, a public service person knows that there are many influences from the population, bottom-up, that must be taken into account in order for a control decision to be made and carried out regarding different levels of local governmental agencies, social-interest and similarly organized groups, and de facto groupings based on age, sexual preference, racial, ethnic, religious, etc.

Certainly, a business must somewhat consider some of these factors, such as in advertising, but nowhere near the degree that public service must consider them. That’s a huge difference concerning the expectations of control that a candidate brings to the position of an elected official. Hence, the tendency of business background officials to rely on their experience to “just get in there and get the job done, quickly,” to be “the decider,” and for voters to be attracted to that simple refrain. Candidates from public service, however, have experience with the need for a more nuanced approach, and therefore have a harder task of conveying a message to voters that is based on the complexities of the population but is still easily understood.

Basically, it’s a difference of expecting top-down authority and focus on customers only, in contrast to expecting needed bottom-up cooperation from constituents and focus on the nation’s total population. It’s clearly the result of the control perspective that each has, formulated by past experience.

Prior experience, then, would be very important in being successful for an elected candidate. It seems that an analogy with hiring an electrician for a home service call is appropriate. Would you call a plumber to do a house wiring job? Or would you call a person with the most experience in that particular type of job? It makes sense to select a person with the most relevant experience for any kind of job; and that goes for public service and business too.

Of course, it’s not always so cut and dried. Being human, past experience overlaps to allow people to have combinations of experience in both fields (as with all human experiences), but it’s still true that the basic control perspectives of each differ significantly and must be evaluated for each individual’s particular history of integrating the two. For example, when it comes to US presidential elections, history shows a lack of success by presidents who had a dominant business background (e.g.

So where are we in this mess? We need to be informed voters, keeping in mind the different perspectives of control that business and public service have, and vote for the candidate that has the most relevant experience for the job. That’s an essential consideration, and rather obvious, but is too often ignored.

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