Endless effort and spin has gone into trying to explain why Hillary Clinton lost (without ever considering that her own history, personality and views had anything to do with it). As I tried to explain long before the election in my book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” the elites of politics, academia and the media had sealed themselves into such an airtight echo chamber, they had no idea what the mysterious natives of that vast “flyover country” that they looked down on, literally and figuratively, were thinking.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE EVENING EDITION: Click here.
What they were thinking was that they were fed up to the gills with a doumikble standard that gave the politically-connected a pass for things that would land them under the jail. There were sick of being ignored and insulted for voicing legitimate complaints about how their lives were being adversely affected by leftist policies, disregard for the Constitution and selective enforcement of laws.
And just on a visceral level, they were tired of the grating combination of ignorance and arrogance – that condescending attitude of elitists who seemed to believe they were the smartest people in the room even though the results of their ideas in reality showed that they didn’t have the slightest idea what they were doing. They thought they knew how to run the entire planet, but they had fewer practical skills than the average apprentice plumber.
During the Obama years, a lot of young savants with massive egos sailed triumphantly into Washington only to go slinking back to academia after seeing their precious theories shatter on the rocks of reality. So what can all those Ivy League hothouse flowers learn about problem-solving from a lowly former Arkansas governor and business owner?
Well, the most important tip I could offer is this: very big problems are usually not solved with very big solutions. A 2000-page bill only creates a whole new set of problems. If you want to turn a problem into a catastrophe, the recipe is simple: just add lots and lots of federal bureaucrats.
When you have a big problem, Step #1 is to break it down into little problems. Then put someone in charge of each problem who actually knows how to solve it. It takes an experienced, executive decision-maker just to decide which decisions to make and which ones can be left to someone else.
Next comes the hardest part: prioritizing. We’ve all seen executives who are constantly bustling and shouting. They look busy – some people are even impressed by their constant bustling -- but they never really get anything done. That’s because they’re trying to do everything at once, instead of focusing on issues in their order of importance.
I’ll let you in another secret: the importance of an issue is not determined by how important the people closest to it think it is. You might have to disappoint people by telling them their pet issue isn’t your top priority. But sorry, that’s part of the job.
I once had a professor of religion who said one of the wisest things I ever heard about management: “Don’t use all your water to put out too small a fire.” If you use up all your resources and credibility overreacting to a small crisis, then what do you do when a big crisis comes along and your fire extinguisher is empty? (We’re seeing this a lot in the media these days, when every little controversy becomes a hair-on-fire CRISIS, then gets dropped the second the next one comes along. All this has accomplished is to erode their own credibility.)
Another essential skill is choosing the right employees. If you have important jobs to fill, find people who’ve mastered every aspect of their current job and are happy there, but ready to move up. Someone who wants a promotion because he’s not comfortable where he is won’t be any more comfortable higher up.
You also don’t need an idealistic dreamer who leaps in from academia to reinvent the wheel. Advanced degrees are admirable, but often, real world experience is much more valuable. When you need to put out a fire, you call a firefighter, not a Ph.D. in combustion theory. And as we’ve also learned, you don’t put people in charge who let partisan zeal prejudice the way they do their jobs or deal with the public.
That’s what you should learn on day one of “Leadership 101.” So how come so many of our leaders still haven’t learned it?