Are the Two Titles, President and CEO, Compatible?
Donald Trump trumpets himself as a great businessman. There are parts of the public that assume his self-declared business acumen can naturally translate to his success as president. Not so fast: Our nation’s purpose and methods of operation are not the same as a business. The two entities exist in completely different contexts.
A democracy exists for the common good. A president must consider what he or she wants to do and what ought to be done, given all the competing forces that impact on most presidential decisions. A business exists to increase its market share and its return on investment. A nation and a business are two different species.
American democracy is messy; it was designed by our Founding Fathers to be that way — slow, lanky and lumbering. A president exists in a convolution of checks and balances, competing forces, as well as multiple domestic and international environments. The president must build consensus across official and public minds, and must appreciate the history, culture and background of peoples different from him or her. Name-calling or brutish behavior doesn’t secure American vitality. A business exits in a much simpler and circumscribed context. All decisions made by the inhabitant of the White House have ripple effects. Business decisions, by the very nature of what a business is, are more corralled, even in a globalized economy.
The president must share power. The boss of a business can centralize power to a much greater degree than POTUS. Bosses operating in a commercial context can act like an ‘Alpha Animal’, wherein they are watched for signs of intention or agitation far more than they have to watch and relate to others.
A president can only be removed from office by orders of impeachment, a rare and gut-wrenching process. The boss of a business, in most cases, can have his or her own way, save a public company’s board taking action to do a makeover of the C-suite.
Donald Trump created the TV program “The Apprentice” (which should have been named “You’re Fired”), but he can’t lay off an American from citizenship just because he or she is not creating enough profit. Let’s remember the words of FDR: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
To live up to constitutional responsibilities, a president’s temporal frame of reference must consider current circumstance and law, past precedent and future generations. A CEO’s internal clock is increasingly short-term and can even be as short as the afternoon call to Wall Street. It is typical for a CEO to require today’s shift in corporate marketing strategy to achieve success yesterday. As president, there are no shortcuts.
DEALING WITH COMPLEXITY
The leader of our nation, who is also the leader of the free world, must be cognitively equipped to deal with complexity and also have the imagination to conceive of at least some unintended consequences of his or her actions. In contrast, it is typical for a business executive to fancy a world cut into small segments of time so as to eliminate complexity and flux.
The goal of the President of the United States is effectiveness…in the name of all Americans. The goal of a CEO is efficiency and increased share price.
HAVING v BEING
The orientation of the President of the United States is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” for all. The orientation of the business Alpha is profit, profit for him- or her-self, for the business and for shareholders.
The title, Mr. President, lives in the context of the BEING of the American citizenry. The moniker, CEO, lives in the context of HAVING things, like money. The former can’t be measured by numbers, the latter, can.
Democracy is wonderful. Somehow, the essence of corporate life, regardless of anything else, seems not to fit into the category of “wonderful.”
The job of the American president is the most difficult job in the world. During one’s tenure in the Oval Office, graying hair is a display of that fact. President-Elect Trump cum Chief Executive has an easier task. Yes, he has built a bunch of golf courses and tall buildings to declare his superman status. But can you imagine President Trump with gray hair? Probably not. Partly, that’s because he thinks the job of the president is the same as the job of a CEO. That’s a misreading of the job. That might give Americans gray hairs.