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Mickey Edwards
Political leader

Mickey Edwards

Former U.S. Congressman, Mickey Edwards is vice president of the Aspen Institute, where he directs the Institute's Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership.

One CEO Overboard

Sometimes the problem is not with the failure of leadership at the top, but a failure of responsible leadership by those who undertake it to bring about a change. It's simply easier to change the person at the top of the pyramid than to make a serious evaluation of where problems actually lie. A good example is in the field of sports. In baseball, general managers select the players, owners set budget limits, players sometimes prove to be less capable than they and their agents promised, pitching and batting coaches fail to perform adequately, etc., but it is invariably the manager -- who neither hires nor budgets nor plays -- who is released. College coaches are often dismissed if they fail to turn around failing programs in absurdly small amounts of time.

The question in the GM case is the extent to which the CEO had sufficient authority and internal clout to insist upon, and realize, real change. Sometimes a leader's hands are tied by the ramifications of previous decisions (Barack Obama did not get us into either Iraq or Afghanistan and the market collapse happened before his election, and his options are thus constrained). Not knowing enough about the internal structures at GM or how much a CEO's freedom is limited by previous decisions that are not easily reversible, it is hard to judge whether removing him is significant or symbolic; symbolism may be sufficient if the change causes other CEOs to gulp a few times and make much more serious efforts to repair the situations in which they find themselves but that depends on executives having skill at reading the tea leaves, a supposition that would seem poorly grounded.

Bottom line: The administration threw one CEO overboard; will that fix the problems? It'll send a message but it won't immediately transform the assembly lines or panic suppliers and unions into concessions they don't believe to be in their best interests or sustainable. A good read -- a bold and determined President, a stern message, yada yada yada -- but the day after, nothing has changed and finding fall guys won't, by itself, be enough to change anything.

By Mickey Edwards

 |  March 30, 2009; 1:19 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Let's Avoid a Cultural Clone | Next: Change Must Come From the Top

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Right now the message being sent is that the president is afraid to take on a wall street CEO, no matter how poor the performance, no matter how many middle-class tax dollars have to be sent to pay for the incompetence.

Posted by: SayWhat4 | March 31, 2009 8:18 AM
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Like a former congressman to expect one action fixes all or it isn't worth doing. Maybe congress can pass a non-binding resloution demanding all CEOs to work harder.

Posted by: crete | March 31, 2009 7:20 AM
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