Would You Like To Be the President of a Democratic Country?

February 9, 2007

by Dr. Ichak Adizes

I have attempted to reorganize the executive branches of several democratic countries, to no avail. If I did succeed, it was due to informal implementation – through assistants to the Prime Minister or President. The organizational chart did not change.Usually, the chart needed changing because the country had some problems or priorities and its government was not organized to deal with them head-on.Take, for instance, the drug problem in the United States. The drug czar, as he was called, was supposed to coordinate other ministries in the war against drugs. In other words, he was a czar without soldiers. No officers or generals; no troops. Whatever he was able to accomplish, he got through “Jewish foreplay”: hours of begging and pleading.It did not work and it cannot work. Why not? Because the structure of the executive branch is determined by law. In order to eliminate one ministry and establish another one, one must go through the legislative branch to get approval. This gets complicated, because it is political trading that determines who gets which position or ministry: for example, to encourage a party to join a particular coalition, the coalition may offer it the leadership of, say, the Ministry of Economics. Thus, trying to make changes in ministries means additional political trades, which could destabilize the government or even cause the cabinet to fall. In Montenegro, the Agency for Environmental Protection (with a small budget) is structured to report to the Ministry of Tourism. Because the country is so gung-ho on developing tourism, the agency is hampered in protecting the environment. It’s the same as if an organization’s quality control department was part of production.When the leadership of ministries is allocated to political parties, these appointments tend to depend on internal party politics. Thus it is more than likely that the wrong choices will be made. Take Israel, for example: It once had a minister of defense who had zero experience in defense matters. He was actually a trade union organizer.The budgets of ministries also become part of the political "horse trading." In Israel, for instance, the religious parties always insist on leading the Ministry of the Interior, which determines citizenship and performs the gate-keeping function as to who is a Jew. In exchange for voting with the Prime Minister, they expect a significant budget allocation to the religious schools, even though that might not be the country’s most important priority at the time.Now watch the Prime Minister maneuver his agenda. The government is not structured to deliver his priorities; the budgets do not reflect his priorities; and the people who head his ministries do not necessarily have the skills to do their jobs. On top of that, those ministers who belong to a different party than the Prime Minister are more loyal to their party than to the Prime Minister. And of course, some of the ministers of his own party are praying for his demise so that they can take his position. Under these circumstances, how motivated could you be to make hard decisions, and what chance do you have to see them through?Here is one more barrier to your effectiveness as a leader: A major part of the government’s budget goes to pay government employees, who are organized in strong trade unions and have a high percentage of active voters. If you try to make an economic reform that threatens their share of the government pie, the trade unions will strike, the country becomes paralyzed, and you will most probably not be re-elected. What would you do? (I am describing Brazil here). You would act as if you were in control, make lots of speeches but make no waves, right? The same is true of the government of Vicente Fox in Mexico. I tried to give more power to law-and-order government agencies because it was practically non-existent (the reason for that will be the subject of a separate Insight). But creating such a structure required parliamentary approval, and Fox had no control of his own party, much less the Parliament. Furthermore, the biggest chunk of the government budget went to education, which was and is ineffective, outdated, and unjustifiably expensive. Thus, education has resources it wastes, while law and order is on an anorexic diet – but change cannot occur: the teachers’ union is extremely powerful and they vote en masse.So what happens? Nothing much beyond empty promises. I don’t think it is strange that people do not trust their political leaders. What I cannot understand is why would any normal person want to lead under those circumstances?The only explanation I can think of is that the potential leader’s ego is so enormous that he becomes a prisoner of his ego and believes he can overcome the truly unmanageable. Or else, he goes into denial and becomes the king from the children’s story “The Emporer’s New Clothes.” He pretends to lead and be powerful, while in reality everyone knows he is nude, a lame duck.What to do? I’ll leave that for another Insight.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes