Yearning for a “Buck Stops Here” President

Ever since I was in business school at the University of Houston I have been fascinated with the different management and leadership styles. While in school I learned that different groups of people responded differently to the management styles. A management style that works successfully with software developers in Silicon Valley will probably be unsuccessful with workers on the assembly line in Detroit. From Jim Peters with his book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, to Jim Collins book, Good to Great, there has been a steady stream of authors highlighting the essential characteristics of successful organizations that transcends their particular industry. Many successful management characteristics from the private sector have been successfully transferred to the public sector. With this wealth of management knowledge, what is the Obama management style and is it successful?

The most common description for the Obama management style is “lead from behind”. I am not sure what this really means since the statement is nonsensical. I cannot think of a management style  being used in the private sector version that compares to the administration management style. What I do know is that based on the recent scandals, their management style is not only uniquely different but it is not working. The proof is how the administration reacts to a crisis. Of the many explanations I have read about the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack, we have this comment by an Obama administration official to CBS News.

We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots," said one Obama administration official who was part of the Benghazi response. "It’s actually closer to us being idiots.

The administration’s choices appear to be between labeled a liar or an idiot. It is not much of a choice but the administration apparently decided that being labeled an idiot is preferable than a liar.

On Friday I had the opportunity to listen to the live testimony of outgoing acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Steve Miller who said "I did not mislead Congress or the American people" to the House Ways and Means Committee. He explained the IRS actions as a simple, innocent mistake. He also mentioned several times how “truthful” he was to the Committee. At almost the same time we find out that IRS’s Lois Lerner planted a question at the ABA conference in order to leak the Inspector General’s report that raised serious questions whether the IRS deliberately mislead Congress. If Mr. Miller was being “truthful”  to Congress then why did his subordinate orchestrate this misleading response to a simple mistake?

Are the four active scandals a natural result of this administration’s management style? Are we looking at a random event in which the administration made a few simple, innocent mistakes that is best handled by being selectively “truthful” about? Is plausible deniability a plan or a coffin? We have already seen how this selective “truthfulness” easily transformed itself into a situation where being considered an idiot is preferable to being a liar.  Bad luck finds bad managers. There are probably a slew of aspiring leadership author getting ready to write the next best seller on this administration but it is safe to say that this management style plan seems to be dependent on “fooling all of the people all of the time”. The author of this quote, President Lincoln, was skeptical that this could ever be a successful political strategy. Yet the number and severity of the scandals has Americans yearning for a simpler, honest time that both President Lincoln and Truman understood. A time in which Presidents did not try to fool all of the people all of the time and President Truman proudly posed with a sign that said, “The buck stops here”. Honesty and accountability worked for many Presidents. It works for businesses and is a theme of Dave Ramsey’s best seller book, EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches. We can learn from the past. This new fangled management style is not working.