Why can’t elected leaders be more like business leaders?

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Why can’t our elected leaders be more like business leaders?

It’s a question I’ve repeatedly pondered — every time, in fact, another election ballot comes in the mail. I suspect other voters wonder the same thing.
I know candidates tout their business credentials, sometimes justifiably so and sometimes not.

Let me acknowledge a couple of caveats and some important distinctions.

First, there are substantial differences between running a business and government. For the most part, businesses exist to make a profit. Governments exist to provide products and services that citizens can’t efficiently provide for themselves — from roads to schools to defense. That means businesses can drop product lines and services that don’t make money. Governments would be hard-pressed to stop providing even the most costly services unless, of course, they were hugely unpopular.

Second, there are good and bad business leaders the same as there are good and bad elected officials. Neither group is immune to corruption, incompetence or indifference.

Nonetheless, it’s been my experience as the editor of a business journal who’s interviewed countless business leaders over the past 20 years, that good owners, executives and managers bring to their tasks some beneficial attributes.

Good business leaders remain more interested in what’s accomplished than how it’s accomplished or who gets the credit afterward. If anything, business leaders are quick to attribute success to their staffs and dismiss the importance of their own roles. Business leaders are all about teamwork, empowering employees to do their best and channeling their efforts toward a common goal. There’s none of the us versus them that’s become such a dominating and polarizing part of politics.

Good business leaders also realize that while their enterprises must make money to remain in operation, caring for employees and communities are essential parts of that process. Business leaders want to take care of the employees who take care of their customers. Business leaders want to support the communities in which they’re located. It’s common sense from a strictly pragmatic perspective in promoting customer service, marketing and sales. But most business leaders I’ve interviewed take those responsibilities seriously because of deeply held convictions. Just imagine what would happen if political leaders cared more about the welfare of their constituents than their own interests or the prospects of re-election?

All this comes to mind after an interview with Anna Stout, executive director of the Roice-Hurst Human Society in Grand Junction and the latest winner of the Health Links Director’s Award for her efforts to implement a wellness program at the animal shelter and adoption center. I was impressed by everything she told me, but one thing in particular. The first step in developing a wellness culture, she said, is to encourage empathy.

Unfortunately, that’s something that seems sorely lacking in elected leaders at all levels — including the business leader who now occupies the White House.