New Challenges Facing Global Leadership:
Refocusing the International Leadership Forum
Center for the Study of Implementation Strategies
First Annual Meeting
Western Behavioral Science Institute’s
International Leadership Forum
La Jolla, California
April 27, 2002
and Old Paradigms
|Examples of Process and Implementation
“What are the new challenges facing global leadership?” WBSI President Dick Farson asked me, in an effort to challenge me, to challenge you, with the challenges facing global leadership.
There are a number of directions from which we can approach that question. I hope to suggest one that is a little different, and possibly more productive, than that with which I first began this project.
Occasionally you hear a presentation from someone who describes it as a “a work in progress.” But eventually they get it worked out, it becomes their final, finished draft, and with luck is actually published. My experience with this assignment has been just the reverse. I started off with an idea that was a final, finished draft, and the more I worked on it the more it became a work in progress.
Where I started was the Web pags of the World Future Society – an organization with which a number of us have been affiliated from time to time through membership or authorship.
The organization provides its “Top 10 Forecasts from Outlook 2002,” an annual report included in the November-December 2001 issue, and a March-April 2002 issue of The Futurist which contains both “Current Forecasts” and “Tomorrow in Brief.”
In my experience, those seemingly able to predict the future are simply more attentive to what is happening in the present. They have, and use, sharper senses than the rest of us, read the papers, and reflect about what’s happening in their lives. That in no way deprecates their gift. It just makes it more understandable, and something the rest of us can at least strive to emulate.
Be that as it may, here’s a sampling of what our futurists tell us is happening.
A couple of items have to do with water. Half of the world’s wetlands dried up during the last 100 years, and another quarter will suffer the same fate this century. Water shortages are predicted during the next 20 years, especially in large cities of the developing world.
But most of the World Future Society’s highlights have to do with upbeat items, such as the increased job opportunities in renewable energy, aquaculture and nanotechnology – such technologies being portrayed by the organization as a net social benefit.
They have yet to catch up with our own John Craven’s use of “a pipe, a pump, and a pond.”
One report describes a newly developed “conflict barometer” that can analyze news stories on civil protests, repressive government moves, and outbreaks of violence and then predict crises as much as nine months in advance.
I would add to the World Future Society’s list such subjects the continuing, and growing, gap between rich and poor in the United States as well as around the world. A subset of this problem in our Information Age concerns the gap between the information haves and have-nots, sometimes called “the digital divide.”
Others might highlight what has been the number one public health need for thousands of years: the availability of clean drinking water, and proper sewerage facilities. This remains the cause of some ten million deaths a year of children under the age of five. The delivery of more conventional health care to all continues to be a challenge.
Some would mention “the drug problem” – proposing everything from legalization to even tougher criminal penalties at home and military action abroad.
Delivery of adequate educational opportunities poses challenges world wide. There are some 125 million young people who will not receive even a primary school education. The World Bank has just announced it wants to do something about that one.
The distortion of democracy resulting from big money in politics is not yet behind us.
I could go on – as could you. Such lists of problems, the new challenges facing global leadership, are prepared by a number of organizations, published from time to time, and known to most everyone here.
It’s frustrating to see problems all around us – especially when many of them seem so relatively easily solved. Occasionally, when suffering that frustration, I utilize the outlet of drafting an op ed newspaper column.
Recently I wrote one about the overwhelming impact of alcohol on our economy and society. This is a special problem in colleges and universities. The proportion of college students who engage in binge drinking – that is, drinking to get drunk and pass out, rather than as a part of friendly social interaction – is now at a national average of 44 percent. In my little college town it’s 60 percent.
“What does this have to do with the International Leadership Forum?” you ask. Let’s all have another drink, and then I’ll try to explain.
Because what I have been asked to talk about has nothing to do with alcohol, you may be relieved to know. It has to do with a somewhat different way of thinking about what Dick Farson has titled my talk, “New Challenges to Global Leadership.”
Editorial criticism is something to which I respond with thankfulness rather than defensiveness. And I had a lot to be thankful for by way of response to my first draft of the binge drinking op ed.
Surfing the Internet produced an impressive stack of data. And I had summarized, organized and presented much of it: the number of people affected by alcohol, the impact on health and crime, and the economic costs.
Most responses to that draft fell into two categories.
One was, “Some of your data is new to me. I sure didn’t know that there’s a correlation between gun ownership by college students and binge drinking. But mostly this is stuff we all know.”
The second was, “What you ought to be writing about is what can we do about the problems created by alcohol.”
My initial response was that my critics were right. I should just cut my losses and abandon the writing project. Nobody was paying for it, and there wasn't enough time to do the mini-doctoral dissertation, or investigative reporting, required to survey all the positive efforts in the country – or even those in my own home town.
But the more I thought about it the more I realized that writing about the “solutions,” the “what can we do about it,” wasn’t the right approach either.
I may not have found all the solutions, but the Web surfing had sure uncovered a lot. A number of organizations, including the American Medical Association, provide dozens of suggestions, including reports of best practices from a variety of communities.
Moreover, my little college town had already received,
and spent, an $800,000 grant for what was called the “Stepping
Up Project.” As a result of that effort, we now have 100 bars within
walking distance of the campus and a binge drinking level 50 percent greater
than the national average. Most of the stepping up we did, it turned out,
was stepping up to the bar.
No, the problem, I concluded, was not that we didn’t know what to do. The problem, the central question, was simply “why aren’t we doing it?”
Johnson County, where Iowa City is located, has one of the highest educational levels of any county in the United States. Why would the opinion leaders in such a county – informed, well educated and bright as they are – knowing of alcohol’s problems, and its solutions, put so few of them into effect?
That was the concluding question, or observation, with which the revised op ed ended. There really is no point in undertaking more foundation-funded studies, or offering more of the potential solutions to my community, until we better understand the process, the implementation, of reform.
Perhaps we can generalize from this analysis of a small town’s drinking problem to the "new challenges facing global leadership."
Problems need to be identified. Solutions need to be fashioned. And we should be thankful for the individuals with the ability and inclination to do such work.
But we have many institutions – including this International Leadership Forum – devoted to identifying problems and debating solutions.
There are presidential commissions and task forces, Congressional
committee reports, foundation projects, and think tanks from RAND
to Brookings and the Heritage
Foundation. There is a great body of academic and research literature.
NGOs, non-profits, trade associations, academic centers and corporations
provide data. There are quality popular journal, magazine and newspaper
reports. And the Internet offers literally billions of sites.
It turns out there is another great need – a need that goes beyond seeing problems and divining solutions – if we are to get full benefit from the product of such institutions. Clearly, I’m not the only person to have had this insight, but it is nonetheless one worth sharing and repeating.
In a moment we'll walk through a number of examples.What we need as much, and perhaps more, than the identification of problems and the offer of solutions are proposals for the mechanisms, the processes, for gaining acceptance for, and implementing, those solutions.
Before examining the examples, however, I wish to concede at the outset that it is not always possible to draw precise lines between problem, solution and process.
Asking the right questions, how one frames the problem, drives the choice of solutions.
Or the solution may soon create a problem all its own – what we sometimes call “unintended consequences,” whether in the context of controlling animal populations, medical treatments, or welfare reform.
Similarly, there is often an interweaving of solution with process.
A common technique for bringing about popular acceptance of a solution is the involvement of the affected parties, sometimes called “stakeholders,” in the creation of that solution. Having done so, the result is often a compromise, a something-for-everyone solution. What is done in such a case can be thought of as both process and solution.
Compulsive efforts always to distinguish process and solution is neither necessary nor possible. Nonetheless, it is still analytically useful in addressing any public policy issue to recognize the differences between problems, solutions and the processes for their implementation.
Now for some of those examples.
Paving the Road to the Ballot Box
Consider the issue of racism in the South.
Before I clerked for Justice Hugo Black in Washington I served a year as law clerk to Judge John R. Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. In the late 1950s, when racism was still rampant in the south, that court took the appeals from federal district courts in the southern states from Texas through Florida. Some of our judges’ decisions were responded to with burning crosses in their yards.
One subset of the issues surrounding racism involved the relative failure of southern state and local governments to provide basic services to blacks. Roads were paved on the white side of town, and unpaved in black neighborhoods. Municipal police, fire and hospital services were not equally available to whites and blacks.
As is often the case, even defining the problem is not easy. If characterized as “racism” certain analyses logically follow. But suppose we focus our attention more and more narrowly until the problem is defined as, “How can blacks get their roads paved?”
A digression may help explain the process.
You may recall the illustrative definition of systems analysis involving the hotel with the "elevator problem."
Guests complained, a lot, about how slow the elevators were. So defined, the remedy was sought by the hotel with elevator repair persons. But the elevator repair persons were only able to make a marginal difference in the speed of the elevators and the complaints simply escalated.From a systems analyst's perspective, what was the solution to the southern blacks road paving problem?
At this point a systems analyst was called in. He asked what the problem was. But when told the problem was slow elevators he protested. "Your problem is not slow elevators," he said.
"Well, then," the hotel manager replied, "what do you think it is? That's what we're getting the complaints about: slow elevators."
"Ah," said the systems analyst, "that's the point. Your problem is the complaints, not the elevators." And he went to work.
The solution he proposed was the installation of full-length mirrors across from every elevator. Guests would push the button for the elevator, turn to admire themselves in the mirror, and were now almost irritated with how quickly the elevator arrived.
It turned out not to have anything to do with paving contractors, or various mixes of concrete.
The solution was based on a political insight. Elected officials like to be re-elected. That means they tend to be most responsive to those who actually vote.
Maybe, if we made it easier, or at least possible, for blacks to register and vote in southern elections, so the theory ran, elected public officials might be more responsive to their needs.
Clever analysis and solution, right? So should we move on to the next example?
No. All we've identified so far is a creative solution to a difficult problem, or at least an hypothesis regarding a possible solution.
Voting rights may be a logical way to get roads paved, but there’s still a long dusty road to that rainbow.
How do we get from where we were to that horizon? How on earth are we going to get a voting rights act passed by a U.S. House and Senate made up of a large number of elected officials who, if personally not committed racists, are at least elected by virtually all-white constituents, many of whom would like to keep it that way?
What is the process necessary to get that legislation drafted, introduced, and – most difficult of all – passed and signed? How could we implement that solution?
The answer isn't simple, but much of it can be found in the record and tactics of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Much of what he did is known to all of us. Some of what he did will never be known by any of us. But none of it had to do with either identifying the problem, or with coming up with a solution. It had to do with process; with getting the solution implemented.
In 1964 President Johnson appointed me Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration. And I still recall the memo he sent to all presidential appointees, asking us to provide him with proposals for reforms in our area of specialization, proposals that we thought were in the best national interest. We were not to think about what was, or was not, politically possible. He would make those decisions, and he wanted a lot of them to make. He would show us, he said, that many things we thought impossible could, in fact, be accomplished.
You see, from Johnson’s perspective, much of this process ought to be a lot easier than we make it. “It’s not doing what is right that’s difficult,” he was quoted as saying, “it’s knowing what is the right thing to do.”
But Lyndon Johnson was somewhat unique. The rest of us are both much more firmly convinced that we know the right thing to do, and totally frustrated in our ability to get it done.
That’s the challenge we have in Iowa City with binge drinking. It’s not identifying the problem. It’s not coming up with solutions. It’s figuring out how to move the community to implementing those solutions.
It’s also the “challenge facing global leadership.”
The Israel-Palestine problem is kind of obvious. A lot of people are dying. There have been many proposed solutions over the years. Some of them have even been more or less agreed to by the parties. There’s the new Saudi proposal on the table now. Michael ("Roger and Me," "TV Nation") Moore has presented his own scenario in his latest book, Stupid White Men.
Here again, the challenge is not how to identify the problem,
or even to come up with possible options for its resolution – as important
and difficult as those tasks may be – the challenge is to get the parties
to the table; to get them and us to one of those possible solutions.
The challenge, as it is sometimes described, is the peace process.
Ralph Nader is best known for his consumer protection accomplishments. Starting with auto safety, he can be credited with passing more consumer legislation during the 1970s than any single U.S. Senator. That is the substance of what he’s done, the solutions he’s helped provide for the problems he has identified.
There are thousands of people alive and well today who owe their lives to Ralph Nader. Indeed, it has been noted that, had his recommendations been adopted years ago regarding the security of commercial airlines’ cockpit doors, 9/11 could not have happened. Thousands more would have owed him their lives.
But Ralph Nader’s primary contribution to our nation is something seldom noticed or commented upon: his creative innovations involving process.
He has used techniques of investigative journalism, as with his early “Nader’s Raiders” reports on government agencies. He has used corporate shaming as an instrument of change.
He is not a control freak, interested only in building his own conglomerate of public interest organizations. He finds and inspires young leaders, trains and supports them, and then spins them off into their own independent organizations.
Necessarily, one of his most significant contributions has been ideas for the funding of public interest activity.
Here’s an example.
College students’ interests are not limited to binge drinking, however much that may sometimes appear to be the case.
Students may be concerned about tuition increases, landlord abuse of student tenants, or the unmet demand for a vegetarian option in the cafeteria. Their concerns go beyond the campus, to general or specific environmental issues, or university contracts with sweat-shop clothing manufacturers.
While those are the issues, they are not the students’ primary challenge.
Students’ special challenge is their lack of resources for research, investigation, litigation and lobbying. Many student organizations are funded by the university. But most educational administrators would rather fund homecoming parade floats than student organizations with the power and inclination to sue the university and its corporate friends.
Another challenge students confront is their relative inability to provide ongoing focus and pressure. They have full lives, other obligations, come and go, lose momentum during the summer months, and one-fourth of their number are replaced each year with a new crop totally without a clue.
Whether you want to call it a “solution” or a “process,” what Ralph Nader proposed was a self-imposed student fee to fund what he called Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRGs. In California it’s called CALPIRG. With thousands of students the fee didn’t have to be much to create a budget capable of sustaining a year-round, fulltime staff of young lawyers and public interest advocates.
Travelling from state to state, this Johnny Appleseed of the public interest movement has watched the healthy growth of the PIRG seeds he’s planted until, today, there are PIRGs in over half the states.
Not only do PIRGs put in place the process necessary to give voice to student idealism, they also provide a marvelous training opportunity in democracy and civic responsibility for thousands of recent graduates.
It’s a model he has tried with other disenfranchised citizens,
such as utility ratepayers – since last year a sensitive issue in California.
Utility Boards, he calls them. And they are funded in much the same
way as the PIRGs, with small, voluntary contributions from ratepayers.
Many of us here serve on various boards, or have done so at one time or another.
But few individuals, including – or perhaps especially – board members themselves, have thought much about the job.
John Carver is one who has. He has written a couple of books on the subject that are probably familiar to some of you: Boards That Make a Difference and Reinventing Your Board.
The principles, like his consulting, can apply to all kinds of boards: Fortune 500, non-profits and NGOs, school boards (including the Iowa City Community School District's reinvention of the governance principles for its board) – indeed, any multi-person governing group.
Carver says that most boards are “incompetent groups of competent people.” The board members haven’t thought much, if at all, about their role. As a result they tend to position themselves somewhere along a continuum that goes from the “rubber-stamp board” at one end to the “micro-managing board” at the other. It’s not that they are on the wrong place on the continuum, says Carver, it’s that there is no place along that continuum that is appropriate for a board.
It’s unfair to Carver to try to summarize his theories and guidebooks in a couple of paragraphs. But, in general, he suggests that boards should focus on what he calls “ends policies” (and others might call measurable goals) for the organization, “executive limitations” (what the CEO-equivalent is forbidden to do), and rules governing the relationship between the board and CEO-equivalent. The CEO’s job description becomes identical to the organization’s achievement of the board’s ends policies. So long as he or she is pursuing those ends, and not violating the limitations, no additional board permission is required.
Carver’s approach is simply an example, in another context,
of what is meant by “process.” In short, it makes no difference what the
organization is doing substantively, Carver is focusing on the process
of a board’s governing that substantive program.
[Note: This section relies heavily on Nicholas Johnson, "Questions They Never Get Asked," Washington Post, July 12, 1987, p. C7.]
The presidency of the United States needs to be thought of in process terms.
In 1972, while an FCC Commissioner, I was asked to do television interviews with most of that year's Presidential candidates. It was frustrating, because the candidates had long before worked out most of their pat answers to standard questions.
The notion of giving them an unexpected experience, like throwing a softball to see if they could catch it, or tipping over their chair to see how they'd respond, while tempting, was not seriously pursued. What I finally settled upon was a process question.
It’s one I have continued to use in the years since in the living rooms of Iowans gathered to learn something of the presidential candidates travelling their state every four years. Iowans feel entitled to, even responsible for, questioning Presidential aspirants.
The question goes something like this.
"Senator,” (for it often is a senator), “let us make two assumptions. Let’s assume that everyone here agrees you are 'right on the issues,' whatever that may mean to them. Secondly, let’s assume you are elected President.During the past 30 years there have been few who even understood the question (Hubert Humphrey and Jesse Jackson were two who did). None has had an answer.
“My question then becomes, Senator, how will you accomplish your objectives?
“Will the Washington sub-governments have less power than they do now? Why? Will children and the poor have more power? Why? Will the broadcasters have less control over the FCC, the subsidized ship operators less control over the Maritime Administration, the military-industrial complex less control over Defense appropriations? Will the gap between rich and poor start narrowing?"
"I'll appoint good people to office" is the most one can hope for by way of response – from my perspective a revealing bit of evidence they haven’t even thought about, let alone understood, the problem.
The problem, of course, is that there’s very little those “good people” will be able to do, heading agencies captured by the very industries they are supposed to regulate, confronting those powerful special interests both directly, and by way of the legislators whose political campaigns the industry pays for.
Emphasizing process does not detract from the importance of "the issues" – the problems and their solutions. There are differences between candidates (in past actions as well as campaign statements) regarding such things as nuclear disarmament, jobs, health care and education – though the positions may reflect the advice of pollsters and political advisors more than well-considered public policy analysis.
But even if a candidate's positions on the issues are long and deeply held, they may very well undergo radical revision when confronted by political realities. (As President Truman observed: "When it comes to these bureaucracies, I can't make them do a damn thing.") As anyone who has worked in Washington knows well, the primary problem with the intentions of platforms and position papers is the enormous gulf between public interest and political process.
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and then ask the candidates a few more questions.
How do they propose to build the coalitions and political support necessary to accomplish those things in "the public interest" which are of low priority for the mass media and public, but of high priority to the special interests which oppose them?
How will they break the grip of the sub-governments: that fusion of each individual industry's oligopolistic corporations, trade associations, congressional subcommittees, trade press, PACs, specialized lawyers, eating clubs, lobbyists, publicists, and government agency personnel that seem to run Washington?
Is the candidate interested in the management of the federal government at all? What management experience, theories, preferences – or "style" – will he or she bring? How will the candidate collect, evaluate and select nominees for presidential appointments – or proposals for legislation? (The current Vice President’s meetings with Enron executives illustrates one common approach.) How will he or she apportion functions and staff between cabinet departments and the White House?
The potential process questions are endless. But at this
point few if any such questions are ever put to the candidates. They should
be. Because, as everyone here knows, the qualities it takes to govern are
different from the qualities it takes to get elected. And after the sparring
over "the issues" and personal lives finally ends, and the ballots are
counted, it is the process of the presidency that will make the
difference in our lives.
[Note: This section relies heavily on Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Sunday Register, July 21, 1996, p. 2C. Sources for the statistics cited in this section are provided at the end of the linked site.]
Campaign finance reform is an example of many of the problems associated with drawing solution-process distinctions.
Are campaign contributions the problem? Or is their reform (or elimination) a solution to the much broader problem of the collapse of meaningful democracy? Would public financing of campaigns be a process for regaining public interest and participation in their governments? Or is it merely a solution to a campaign finance problem – a solution that will require a very sophisticated understanding of politics to bring into existence; a solution that requires its own process?
So long as we keep our concepts clear it’s not essential that we always agree about their application.
Whatever we call it, we need to understand at the outset that every proposal for funding political campaigns, including the present system, involves public financing. The only question is how the public will pay and how much it will pay.
We can pay as taxpayers or pay as consumers. Which is the better deal? The numbers may surprise you.
Most kids learn about the three branches of government: "legislative" (Congress), "executive" (president) and "judicial" (courts). But Washington doesn't work through three branches. It works through the dozens of sub-governments I referred to earlier.
Sub-governments grow under rocks, away from the media's spotlight. They require an industry dominated by a few firms that grow rich with government help, whether through subsidies, price supports, tax breaks, government contracts, use of public lands, bailouts or tariffs.
A sub-government's membership includes a small, incestuous collection of one industry's corporate and trade association executives, their lawyers, lobbyists and publicists, its trade papers' journalists, congressional sub-committee members and staff, and the relevant agency's employees. They eat and play together, literally inter-marry, and protect each other.
Consider your tax dollars spent on shipping companies' subsidies. Economists say we get little in return. Just redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the rich.
President Lyndon Johnson, one of the most skillful legislative manipulators this century, wanted to cut those subsidies. I was U.S. Maritime Administrator at the time. But even Johnson couldn't beat the maritime subsidy sub-government.
It’s no longer unusual for a president to raise over $10 million at one dinner. Why would anyone contribute so much money?
The answer first came to me during President Nixon's Administration. Milk producers wanted a higher support price. The Department of Agriculture could find no justification. The producers gave Nixon $200,000. Shortly thereafter we all started paying $400 million more for our milk.
The math isn't too hard: $400 million divided by $200,000 means the milk producers got a 2000-to-one return on that campaign contribution. Wouldn't you like to have a "return on investment" like that in your investment portfolio?
Look at the tax breaks, defense contracts, and other gold mines worked by sub-governments. Compare the benefits they get with the price they pay. A 1000-to-one return is not uncommon.
The examples that follow are ten to fifteen years old. If anything, today’s corporate return on campaign contribution investment would be even more shocking.
Campaign contributions are no longer the "man-bites-dog" story of the bribe, or special interest favor – the occasional system aberration. They have become the very system itself, substituting the disproportionate influence of contributors for officials' search for "the public interest."
Any way we sliced it, the 1996 federal campaigns were going to cost us about $1 billion at best and $1 trillion at worst. Which price did we pay?
We could have paid about $4 apiece in direct federal funding of campaigns. That's $1 billion from us, and $1 billion for the campaigns.
What we ended up paying was $4000 each. That's what happens when we sit it out, and let America's wealthiest individuals pay the $1 billion. That's $1 trillion from us to get $1 billion for the campaigns.
The $3996 difference? That's what we paid in increased prices for food, insurance, gasoline, bank interest rates, and bills from doctors, telephone and cable television companies, among others.
Would more widespread awareness of the true costs of today’s system of public financing of campaigns make it any easier to generate a public demand for the other, cheaper form of public financing? And if not, why not?
As mentioned earlier, one of the more common, and successful, ways of getting solutions implemented is to involve those who will be impacted by the implementation.
The Book of Tao [Lao-tzu, or Lao-zi's Dao de Jing] offers this advice. The effective leader will so lead that when his plans have been implemented the people will say, “See, we did it ourselves.”
The modern day equivalent is, “There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you are willing to let others take the credit for it.”
When I was very young my mother would interrupt my play, not with a command, but with a question, “Little Nicky, what would you rather do now, weed the garden or clean up your room?” It was not an order, you see; it was a question to which I was to provide the answer.
Because many of us do share one of Lyndon Johnson’s qualities when it comes to receiving orders. As he used to put it, “I don’t shove worth a damn.”
In one sense, the theoretical concept of democracy, even its application in many instances, is a recognition of these principles and observations. For the most part, Americans accept the outcome of our elections – so long as they are perceived as having been fairly conducted. Indeed, a part of the grousing about the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was the perception that we ended up with a president who (a) got the fewest total popular votes and (b) was, in one sense, selected by the Supreme Court rather than the people.
Not all, but most, of the legislation that comes from Congress, state legislatures and city councils is supported. Even relatively unpopular jury verdicts probably have a greater measure of popular support than they would have if imposed by a single judge alone. Roberts Rules of Order represent a recognition of, and a process for, democratically arriving at decisions in non-governmental organizations.
Such processes produce a sense of fairness, that we have “played by the rules.” Indeed, it is not even necessary that one have actually participated. It is the fact that there was an opportunity for involvement. Citizens may accept the outcome of a school board, or city council, election in which they – and 95 percent of their fellow citizens – stayed home and chose not to vote. They may like the fact that their local member of Congress holds local community forums, or that anyone can speak at a city council meeting, even though they have never attended one.
On the other hand, the expression “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts,” reflects the cynicism that can flow from the perception that the hearings, open meetings, and advisory committees are mere window dressing. The decision making body, or individual, knew all along what the ultimate outcome would be. They were just, as we say, “going through the motions.” When this is the public perception of the process it does far more harm than if the decision had just been unilaterally announced in the first place.
Have you ever been part of an organization that is required by law to advertise openings for employment and fairly evaluate the qualities of those who apply? Did you ever hear of a case in which the new employee was picked first, the job description written to match their qualifications, the position was advertised, the interviews were conducted, and the original choice was then hired? Any process can be abused.
There are those who believe that civic participation is a good in and of itself regardless of the issue. That is the belief of those engaged in training individuals to lead what is called “community organizing.” They perceive the democratic process as having all too often been manipulated by the wealthy and powerful. They want the less fortunate to develop the self-confidence and skills that can come from successful, smaller efforts at using the system to their own advantage.
However you may feel about community organizing, before we get rhapsodic about the beauties of democracy let’s recall where we began.
Because, like Winnie the Pooh tracking the woozle, we have followed the path of process around the bush of democracy only to discover our own tracks. That’s how what was originally a finely tuned, final draft of a thesis got turned into what has now become a work in progress.
There is something incredibly anti-democratic, and paternalistic, about a group of policy wonks trying to figure out how to force the acceptance of solutions they believe to be in the best national interest. They are saying, in effect (and sometimes in so many words), “We know better than you do what is in your best interests.”
But the fact is that many teenagers think smoking is cool; and millions of adult Americans want to own handguns, drink their beer, and drive their SUVs.
In many ways, the democratic process – however flawed, distorted and manipulated it may be – is already in place in many contexts. We don’t have to create it. Moreover, we need to accept it, unless we are prepared to go public with “we know better than you do” advocacy.
We may be able to modify, or restrict, the democratic process in some contexts. Perhaps we try to elect too many officials – sometimes with participation of five percent or less of registered voters. Maybe some of those positions could be made appointive – or abolished. Some have suggested, for example, that there may be too many ballot propositions in California for voters to understand the significance of what they’re enacting. Perhaps the number, or the categories for which such direct legislative participation is permitted, could be restricted in some way.
But the bottom line is that the process for which we search was before us all the time. It is the democratic process.
So let us redefine our challenge.
It is no longer one of finding a process. It now becomes one of devising ways to reform that process so that it will, more often, come closer to producing what we believe to be the policy most individuals would support if they were not apathetic, and had the education and information necessary to think it through.
Democracy will give folks the experience of participation, and produce outcomes they’ll usually accept. But democracy has never promised wisdom – except insofar as one is willing to simply define wisdom, or “political truth,” as that which democracy produces.
On the other hand, it is often remarkable how much agreement can emerge under the right conditions. Imagine a small group of individuals brought together who are not representing trade associations, unions, or others with “positions,” are not politicians listening to the polls and playing to the grandstand, and are not ideologues. Imagine they are provided a collection of readings and briefings on the issues, with the supporting data and best practices, at a three-day retreat and conference. It is noteworthy how often agreement can emerge.
Indeed, it is not unusual for bright grade school children, turned loose on a public policy issue, independently to come up with proposals similar to those of college professors and think tanks.
The differences between us, it turns out, are not so much between those who describe themselves as “liberals” or “conservatives” – words with increasingly less utility in most contexts. The differences are between
So what’s the problem with democracy? I’m reminded of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's line in "I Am Waiting": “I am waiting for someone/ to really discover America.” Because the only problem with democracy is that we’ve never really tried it.
You know the story of the pollster who asked the question, “Which do you think is the worst problem in this community, ignorance or apathy?” Over 72 percent answered, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
And once we focus on problems of citizen ignorance and apathy we come back to the importance of three major institutions in our society: our public schools, our mass media, and elected representatives free to carry out the wishes of all of their constituents.
The strategy that worked was to convince them of the relationship between media reform and their own mission. “Whatever is your top priority,” they were told, “whether it is the environment, women’s issues, or something else, your second priority must be media reform. With it, you have a prayer of success on your top priority. Without it you don’t.”
And so we return, full circle, to the challenges facing global leadership – or, rather, the challenges of highest priority, the challenges on which all others depend.
Ironically, the primary challenge to leadership, it turns out, is the creation of societies that are able to care for themselves without leadership. The challenge is how to get the leaders out of the way; how to turn the hierarchical pyramid on its head. It is likely that our own Harlan Cleveland's latest book, Nobody in Charge, will have something to say about this.
The challenge is the same one addressed by the 17th verse of the Book of Tao over 2500 years ago. There are leaders who are despised, leaders who are feared, and leaders who are loved. But the most effective leaders are those of whom their "followers" are unaware – those whose people say, "We did it ourselves." The challenge confronting global leadership is knowing how to create such societies.
Thomas Jefferson thought the necessary conditions involved sufficient public education that citizens were enabled to use information and opinion, a First Amendment and copyright law to ensure its creation, public libraries and postal rates to provide for its storage and availability, and a system of elections to measure citizens’ conclusions.Not a bad focus for us, some 200 years later.
As former President
Bill Clinton's advisor, James
("It's the economy, stupid!") Carville might put it on a poster:
However one conceptualizes it, it turns out, the "new challenges facing global leadership," like the old challenges, come back to the process of implementation."It's the implementation, stupid!"