Boehner: Will passing up power really work?
A new year brings a new Congress, and a new leader for one of the world's most dysfunctional organizations. That means new promises for new ways of managing, and new claims that this time, the way Congress works will change.
The Wall Street Journal has a revealing profile of new Speaker John Boehner, and his plans to adjust the rules of the House of Representatives. Between anecdotes of Boehner's early morning vacuuming and his strict 10 p.m. bedtime, the story shares some of his plans for changing the way Congress works. Boehner will propose requirements that new legislation be posted online 72 hours before it comes to the floor. He plans to put cameras in meetings of the powerful Rules Committee, which sets the guidelines for debate in the House.
And perhaps most interesting, for those outside the Beltway at least, is his plan to give more power to committee chairmen. In most organizations, this would be applauded as a very good thing. CEOs or other leaders who give more power to the people who work below them are usually practicing a bottoms-up management approach that leads to more effective decision-making, fewer bottlenecks and more expertise-driven policies.
But what's admirable leadership elsewhere could be a disaster when it comes to Congress. The problem? Decentralization works in other places because everyone is working toward the same goal. While there may be sideline power struggles and political games individuals play to get ahead, people are typically on the same page. Whether they're leading corporations, nonprofits or military forces, they're trying to maximize shareholder profits, raise funds from donors or defeat a common foe.
The situation in Congress is exactly the opposite. There are more competing priorities in the House of Representatives than there are members. Everyone has their own goals, their own promises to keep, their own re-election campaign to prepare. Passing up power could lead to little more than power grabs from others, creating even further infighting and dysfunction.
Perhaps Boehner will find a way to make it work. He's certainly seen the effects of a domineering Speaker, and that could motivate him to get it right: When he took over party messaging under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, he watched up close as the Georgia Congressman micromanaged his way to failure.
But that doesn't mean it will be easy. Sharing power is hard for any leader to do. It may be almost impossible for the leader of 435 people who each have their own agenda.
January 4, 2011; 1:04 PM ET |
Federal government leadership
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