Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Philosopher Kings vs. CEO Presidents

Here's a random question for you: What would you rather have, a Philosopher King or a CEO President?

I got this idea a month ago while reading a Business Week article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (link to the article provided below). The article outlines many of the innovative programs Mayor Bloomberg has initiated since taking office, and praises the mayor's superior business experience in streamlining the bureaucracy. It also mentions how George W. was supposed to be like a CEO president, as Bloomberg has been for NYC, but failed to do so.

And then I asked myself: "Is America looking for a CEO president?" What does that actually stand for? In the case of Bloomberg, that has meant an increasing of governmental efficiency, at the cost of tearing down bureaucracy. Its meant arming the governing body with the best technology, pioneering new ways of processing information, so that the organization can best serve its customers -- its constituents. It also means accountability. A CEO has to sign off on the financials, is responsible for the rise and/or fall of the entire 'enterprise'. "The Buck Stops Here" means the final answer, blame and credit ends with the CEO. A CEO is also the one who can get results while still engaging a multitude of differing and often times opposing interest groups. Is this what America (or all contemporary democracies) expecting of their political leader? Its not bad. Sounds pretty good to me if all of our leaders acted like ideal CEOs.

But I could't help myself and had to peek back into history and see what were the ideals before. If today we are asking for CEO presidents, what was the 'dream leader' of old? Enter the Philosopher King. Confucius dreamed of a day when the world's nations were ruled by philosopher kings, people who had the capacity to not only understand the intricate issues their people presently faced, but also had the foresight to set a vision and course for the future. A philosopher king could fight wars with words, not armies. King David of the Isrealites was a great poet and song-writer. His son King Solomon likewise was a central progenitor for the Book of Proverbs, filled with many wise and wonderful teachings still applicable today. You can find many cultures that share this same desire for such an inspired, learned, wise leader.

So why the change now, from Philosophy King to CEO President?

My only guess is that the nature of democracy, and the rise of the educated class have had deep influences to our nation state. The idea of a philosopher king arose when nations and civilizations were mostly illiterate, uneducated and unruly, and when many kings of that period were only interested in war and pillage. Perhaps in an educated democracy as today, all we need is an actionable executive that has the strength to carry out the concensus of the people. Perhaps we feel as an educated society we, as a voting mass, are smarter or wiser than one wise man? Does today's democracy demand from us a slight inherent mistrust of our leaders? Is there no room, no need, for a philosopher king anymore?

I don't know about that.

An effective political leader that could bring all the benefits of a CEO and a well-oiled bureaucracy would be wonderful. But as we look at our party's candidates in whatever coming election is next, think to yourself whether perhaps we are setting our sights too low just shooting for a CEO? Can we not aspire for a Philosopher King as our elected leader?

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