Leadership Lessons From Bush

TEAM Bush: Leadership Lessons from the Bush White House (McGraw-Hill 2003) is about George Bush, America’s 43rd president, and how America’s first MBA president manages the White House and the most powerful country in the world today. Now, depending on which side of the war (and presidential election) you are on, this title may either be an embarrassment or an honor for MBA degree holders all over the world.

Aura of Confidence

The book is not based on interviews of the author with President Bush but rather on various sources like longtime friends and colleagues and publications. But it does present some revealing facets of the reserved Bush whose air of confidence (he is fond of saying “I am confident…I am determined…”) is a mystery to many Asians. But it does unearth how Bush got to the top post with neither academic brilliance nor business achievements. As the book shows, Bush’s skill lies more in decide-and-delegate leadership style, a manner proven to be very effective for CEOs.

Author Donald F. Kettl provides a comprehensive view of Bush, the “CEO” who was able to build, (at least according to the author), one of history’s most talented cabinets, “Team Bush.” He is depicted as having many odds stacked against him, starting with being a president who was not able to obtain a substantial lead over the other presidential candidate, initially burdened with an unsympathetic House and Senate, and somehow lacking the charisma of a Clinton or a Reagan. However, despite all these odds, he still managed to end up on the winning side of most situations.

Team Building

And how did Bush do this? According to Kettl, it is because he applied the basic principles of team building. He quotes Bush, “I hope the American people realize that a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate, how to align authority and responsibility, how to hold people accountable for results, and how to build a team of people.

Digging into MBA textbooks, one can find the prescription that an organization is best lead in three ways: to the formal organization structure, through policies and through personal contacts of the leaders with the member of the organization. Kettl shows that Bush excelled in these areas. He was able to build and work through his cabinet and White House organization, stick to long-held principles on leadership and management and tailor-fit his communication style to the people he encounters. Perhaps herein lies the secret of Bush’s effective leadership-one based on results and performance which draws on tried and tested management principles applied on grandest scale of all-the American nation.

Well, for CEOs, managers and leader wannabes, “Team Bush” is worth checking out for some leadership lessons. Who knows, perhaps our government leaders may pick up a useful thing (and more) from the president who began with low expectations from his constituents and emerged triumphant in the toughest of challenges.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer June 18, 2003.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu


Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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