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Alan M. Webber

Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

Palin Wouldn't Make it in Business

Strange, inexplicable, rambling farewell speeches to commemorate an untimely resignation from a position of power? That's one area where government leaders and business leaders probably part company.

Take, for example, a hypothetical resignation by a long-time business leader. We'll call him Mr. N, for short. Mr. N has had a long and turbulent business career. He's methodically worked himself up to the number-two position in one of America's leading companies, earning a reputation as a skillful, if sometimes ruthless, political infighter. But he was passed over when the top job came open; when he applied for a top job at a smaller but still significant company, he lost out on that job too, and in a very public way.

His enemies were delighted at his fall, and their animosity seemed to feed on his own. After he lost the smaller job, he even went so far as to call a press conference to publicly and bitterly bid the world of big business good-bye. He vowed never again to apply for a leadership post at a major corporation. His most fateful words lived after him, serving as an epitaph to his business career: "You won't have Mr. N to kick around any more," he told the sneering press. And he was right. After that performance, no company, no board of directors would have anything to do with him.

That's business. In politics, things are different.

In politics, our hypothetical Mr. N. could make a comeback someday, even after that sneering, snarling press conference. He could re-package himself as the new Mr. N, and, if the times zigged and the opposition party zagged, and events worked out in a certain way, why, he could even end up as president of the United States, the leader of the free world! Imagine that!

Now let's consider a hypothetical politician, Mrs. P. She gives a slightly disheveled press conference, resigns her high-level government position, and rides off into the sunset leaving behind a cryptic sign that reads, "Watch this space."

Is her political career at an end? Is she doomed never to regain public confidence? Is she making a wise, strategic decision or a desperate, personal one?

If she'd resigned from a job as, say, the CEO of HP, I'd say she'd be hard-pressed to apply for another top business job. Maybe she could run for governor of some state or other, but business leaders would judge her very harshly.

That's not always true in politics. Political leaders have much more latitude to define their own leadership styles. We once doubted that the U.S. would ever elected a president who had been divorced; we've now elected leaders whose past sins are far worse than a failed marriage. We want political leaders who are "authentic," who have a "personal story" that somehow matches the mood of the moment in the nation. Maverick? Everyone in politics, it seems, marches to his or her own drummer at this point in our history; everyone has a story, a personal journey, and a knack for connecting it to the public appetite.

Is our hypothetical Mrs. P. a political goner? I'd have to say, "Watch this space."

By Alan M. Webber

 |  July 7, 2009; 12:50 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So I was reading over Sarah Palin's pre-Independence Day speech, reflecting on the inarticulate manner in which she announced her resignation, trying to decipher the rambling, disjointed reasons that she gave for her decision, basically trying to make sense of it all, and this is what I came up with...

She's not a quitter. Had she remained in office and finished her first gubernatorial term, then she would be a quitter. Huh? That can't be right.

Oh, I know. She's a dead fish swimming upstream. No, that doesn't make sense either.

How about this? She's the starting point guard on her basketball team playing in the championship game. It's midway through the third quarter and her team is down by ten points. She drives down the court, passes the ball to a teammate, and...promptly takes herself out of the game, grabs a couple of pom poms, and spends the rest of the 2nd half on the sidelines hanging out with the cheerleaders. What? Hmmm.

I've got it. She's tired of all of the local ethics investigations and media intrusion into her personal family life, so naturally she has decided to move her act onto the national stage where nobody will bother her. No, huh?

Well, after carefully analyzing her speech, I've finally come to the conclusion that Sarah Palin is simply a rebel without a clue.

Oh, come on now. Who are we kidding? Palin betrayed her constituency and quit her job midterm because she saw the opportunity to cash in and make big bucks on the national lecture circuit and in paid television appearances. Dollars over duty. Cash over constituency.

End of story.

Posted by: labman57 | July 8, 2009 2:28 PM
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