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Alternative Roles for a Chief Executive, Part 1

This article is Part 1 of 2. Watch for the second piece next Monday, December 5, 2011.

Tom Bertone

In the May 23, 2011, Online PA TIMES, I point out: (1) that multiple models of public administration exist, e.g., the Bureaucratic, Entrepreneurial, Steward, and Iron Triangle Models; (2) that four political groupings can be identified (Cultural Conservatives, Economic Conservatives, Conservative Democrats, and Liberal Democrats), each reflecting a political philosophy; and (3) that each political grouping is most compatible with one public administration model. I then define the roles that political appointees expect professional public managers to play in each of the four compatible political grouping/public administration combinations?

The question now arises as to how a professional manager is to identify the political grouping within which s/he is working, so that s/he can play the expected role. One answer is to examine the behavior of the chief executive, for there is a chief executive behavioral pattern that is most compatible with each political grouping/public administration combination. The paragraphs below outline the chief executive behavioral pattern most compatible with each combination.

In each case, the behavioral pattern appropriate for the chief executive is determined by the vision of society that the political grouping is attempting to promote.

Cultural Conservative/Bureaucratic Model Combination: the Chief Executive as the Great Patriot
The objective of the Culture Conservative philosophy is to maintain the traditional culture by giving power to those who know the culture. Consequently, Culture Conservatives attempt to select as chief executive an individual who personifies traditional moral values and who can serve as a moral example. The chief executive is then expected to emphasize the unifying, rather than divisive, aspects of the culture, thereby strengthening the ability of the culture to withstand both internal and external challenges.

The chief executive positions herself/himself as defender of the national (or public) interest and above the political fray. S/he avoids political wangling with the opposite party and urges it to eschew partisan advantage in favor of advancing a common cause, the public interest–implicitly the traditional culture. She offers few controversial new programs, relying upon incremental improvement of existing programs.

Administratively, s/he relies upon (the appearance of) a strong cabinet and delegation of authority. By relying upon delegation and strong subordinate appointments, the chief executive attempts to insulate herself/himself from the problems that engulf any administration. This protects her/his moral and political authority. S/he supervises these strong subordinates, sometimes closely, through a competent but self-effacing personal staff. The political subordinates in turn rely upon career public managers, acting as a fraternity of experts, to run the executive branch without problems.

An example of the Great Patriot chief executive might be Dwight Eisenhower. (See The Hidden-Hand Presidency by Fred Greenstein.)

Economic Conservative/Entrepreneurial Model Combination: the Chief Executive as Political Leader
The objective of the Economic Conservative philosophy is to establish and maintain a society in which every individual can pursue success (through the marketplace) by giving power to those who know how such a society works and have succeeded in life. Economic Conservative chief executives select themselves by convincing others that they have the political agenda and skills to improve the system under which individuals can succeed. The philosophy expects its chief executives to implement their agendas for the benefit of the Economic Conservative vision.

The most important task for the potential Economic Conservative chief executive is to determine where s/he sits on the laissez-faire/regulation continuum, i.e., how much assistance the marketplace needs from the government. S/he does this in developing her/his agenda. After election, s/he positions herself/himself as the political party leader intent upon enacting the agenda legislatively. S/he is deeply involved in the politics of doing so, expecting her/his party in the legislature to provide support and follow her/his leadership. The chief executive expects to emerge victorious from political battles and be seen as the preeminently successful politician and a great leader.

Administratively, the chief executive emphasizes administrative control, ensuring that policies and programs are implemented and operated within the executive branch as designed. Control takes precedence over efficiency and economy. Accordingly, the chief executive staffs the administration with loyal, deeply engaged party members and expects career public managers to support her/his appointees’ implementation efforts. Career public managers are assistants to political appointees. The Office of the Chief Executive is highly visible and seen actively to manage the entire executive branch operation.

An example of the Great Leader chief executive might be Ronald Reagan.

Watch for Part 2 of this article next Monday, December 5, 2011. To read other articles written by Bertone, see the Related Articles box below.

Thomas L. Bertone is retired president, Thomas L. Bertone and Associates (Management Consultants). Email: [email protected]

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