A Five-letter Recipe for a Non-Fail Presidency

Close up of Vote 2016 election buttons, with red, white, blue and stars and stripes.Barely eight days remain until the American voters elects the adult human who will serve as the next President of the United States. It has been an ugly process to narrow it down to the two major candidates, with all due respect to the lesser known third-parties. In lean management we say “good processes bring good results”. Let’s hope luck favors the outcome of this ugly process.

After November 8th, we look ahead to the best outcomes in the process of the presidency. The president commands a lot power and a great deal of resources. They have the opportunity to make huge improvements, but also huge failures. In a Knowledge@Wharton interview author Elaine Karmack talks about her book Why Presidents Fail and how they can succeed again. She cites major mistakes and explains “modern presidents can’t seem to get their head around the federal government” because of its size, scope and complexity. Presidents aren’t making the time to do this, and as a result she identifies that presidents fail to see and find out what the government knows, and they fail to see where the government is going wrong. In lean management terms, we call this a failure to grasp the current situation.

These two are instances of the the same process failure: a lack of abnormality management in the lean lingo. Abnormalities can be full-blown problems, or just irregularities that are precursors to problems. In the role of the leader of the U.S. government, it is inevitable that there are abnormalities. The presidency must always be off-target, not meeting expectations and standards set by the voting public. At any given time, in ways large or small, the POTUS is failing to do its job. What can save a failing presidency? The author’s offers a commonsense remedy to avoid or mitigate failures, “presidents could spend a little bit more time figuring out what’s going right and what’s going wrong”. To whomever is elected eight days from now, I would like to offer a five-letter recipe for a non-fail presidency: gemba (apologies to readers hoping the five letters would start with T).

The principles of gemba management are to go see and get the facts. Grasping the situation begins on the gemba, listening to the facts. Gemba is wherever the important information regarding the situation or problem can be found. For this to be possible, a president’s span of control must be manageable. A smaller, less complex government with fewer levels of bureaucracy would make this easier. We voters must also change our behavior. Presidents today are expected by their supporters to be ideological, making decisions not based necessarily on facts, realities and root causes of complex problem, but instead on political philosophies, beliefs, ideologies, and so forth.

Karmack says there are three parts to a leader’s job “to get the answer right, communicate it and implement it” and yet she observes that recently U.S. presidents pay too much attention to communication, and not enough attention to implementation. When presidents are traveling around  the country to make speeches, it seems they are doing more telling and less listening. Much talk and little action, in other words. Gemba as a leadership philosophy must begin at the top and echo throughout the organization, even the country. By asking questions and demanding fact-based answers, the president sets the example that motivates others to go to their respective gemba.

Pro tip: the gemba philosophy applies equally well to mayors, governors, county executives, prime ministers, kings, queens, sultans, sheiks, chieftains or any improvement-minded supreme leader.

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