Can Elizabeth Warren turn her vision into reality?
If leaders are judged by the zeal of their followers, Elizabeth Warren should be a pretty good one.
At this writing, more than 160,000 people, most of them presumably progressive, have signed a petition to name the Harvard law professor to run the new consumer protection agency formed as part of the financial reform legislation. A coalition of 250 consumer groups and unions, ranging from AARP to the AFL-CIO, have endorsed Warren, who is viewed as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's godmother, to run it. While she has her opponents, some on the left are such ardent followers of Warren that they're viewing her nomination as a litmus test for the Obama presidency.
But my counterparts over at Political Economy raise an interesting question. Elizabeth Warren may be a good leader. But can she manage?
She may well be an extraordinary manager who can finesse the policymaking process and who would have as deft a touch at managing an agency's internal politics as she is at managing her public profile. But given that she doesn't have that experience--or much policymaking experience at all--on her resume, the burden of proof will likely be on she and her allies to make that case.
I don't know enough about Warren's management skills to weigh in with an answer. But I do know there is a difference, and a big one, that many corporations, federal agencies and nonprofit institutions overlook. And in Warren's case, I know which one matters more.
Many organizations' human resource and personnel departments are obsessed with the leadership development industry, spending untold sums to bring in "thought leaders" to give inspiring speeches and send managers away on fancy leadership retreats. They want to foster "leaders at every level," calling everyone from the chief executive to a junior accounting manager running a two-person team a leader.
I'm all for inspiring people to do great work. And there's little question that our corporations and federal bureaucracies could use all the help they can get encouraging admirable behavior. But the day to day work that most managers do--making strategically wise decisions, setting realistic budgets, navigating political infighting--is management, and should get at least equal billing when it comes to training, coaching and spending.
Most well-run organizations value both, and know that each has its time and its place. If Warren is selected as nothing more than an interim head, her leadership skills will count most. In that role, she'll need to set the initial tone of the agency and lure the best and brightest staff members. But if she gets the nomination and is forced to execute on her vision, her management chops will be needed to succeed in the long run.
Then again, this is Washington. With concerns over Warren's chances at Senate confirmation, and opposition to Warren from the banking industry, and reportedly, Secretary Geithner (who has since stated his support), neither one may matter in the end. The person named to run the new consumer protection agency may not be a great manager or a great leader. But he--or she--will certainly be a good politician.
July 20, 2010; 11:17 AM ET |
Save & Share:
Previous: Top Secret America: What we learn from 'too big to fail' | Next: Shirley Sherrod: Racism and the rush to judgment
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Ken39 | July 22, 2010 4:34 PM
Posted by: WahooRicky | July 21, 2010 2:55 PM
Posted by: dcharlson | July 21, 2010 12:34 PM
Posted by: dfwtexan55 | July 21, 2010 12:21 PM
Posted by: BadMommy1 | July 21, 2010 7:00 AM
Posted by: texassideoats | July 21, 2010 6:06 AM
Posted by: morphnmomma | July 21, 2010 2:25 AM
Posted by: gmss | July 20, 2010 10:01 PM
Posted by: jhough1 | July 20, 2010 5:51 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.