“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly, Pogo
Everyone in America is probably watching the three-ring circus we call Washington and wondering if we’re living in a perpetual déjà vu like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day.
Another bout of whining, fear mongering, and finger pointing. Another day of political gridlock inside the beltway. Today it’s the government shutdown over the budget and ObamaCare. Tomorrow it will be the debt ceiling.
If you’ve ever run a company or an organization in the private sector – you know, the real world where results and accountability actually matter – you’ve got to marvel at how dysfunctional the federal government has become.
Maybe business leaders don’t get politics, but we do know how to get things done. And we also know that, if we ran our companies the way our political leaders have been running the government, we wouldn’t last a day in our jobs.
That’s probably why we’d rather spend the day getting a root canal than banging our heads against a wall in DC. I get a migraine just thinking about what it would be like if I had to:
Run a company without a budget;
Whine to the board every time I couldn’t get my management team to agree on strategy;
Stand up in front of my stakeholders and, with a straight face, blame somebody else for what I get paid to do.
And yet, that’s exactly what’s going on in Washington.
To be fair, there are executives who do that sort of thing, but their companies pay dearly for their incompetence. The truth is, in the brutally competitive business world, you can’t get away with that sort of behavior, at least not for long.
It’s challenging enough to deliver great products, beat the competition, grow the business, generate positive cash flow, and deliver shareholder value. Trying to do all that with the kind of chaotic leadership that’s become commonplace in American politics would be impossible.
The folks we have running the show in Washington would never survive in corporate America.
And yet, here we are. But there is one big difference between running a company and running the federal government. It may be their fault that all this is going on, but if we let it continue, that’s on us. We elected these people. And in just a year or three, we get to do it again. And you know what? I couldn’t be more excited about that.
No, I’m not some Pollyanna optimist who’s gone off his meds. Hear me out. Then I promise I’ll let you get back to football, Facebook, or whatever it is you’ve got going on.
Here’s the thing. All successful executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders have one thing in common: they’re all overachievers. Some have a vision they’re compelled to bring to life. Some live for the challenge, the battle, the chance to win. Others are driven to provide better lives for themselves and their families.
Regardless of our motives or our methods, the one thing we overachievers have in common is that, once we set our minds to something, we don’t stop until we accomplish our goal. We don’t give up and we never surrender.
And one thing’s for sure. Washington is broken. It ceased to function effectively long ago. And make no mistake. The ball is in our court, in our hands, to elect real leaders who can work together and fix the federal government. It isn’t going to fix itself, that’s for sure.
Now, I know what people are saying these days. They’re saying America has changed. The culture has changed. The demographics have changed. We’re no longer a nation of self-reliant individualists. We’re too distracted by all our addictions – gadgets, social media, reality TV, games, food, buying anything and everything whether we can afford it or not – to pay much attention to what’s going on in Washington.
They’re saying the majority of Americans will vote for whoever gives them the most stuff. And those odds are impossible to beat.
I’m not going to argue with any of that, except for the conclusion. Those may be tough odds, but they’re not impossible odds. Every successful business leaders has faced those kinds of odds before – and won. So has our nation. Americans aren’t strangers to adversity and brutal competition. We can beat the odds.
We’re a nation of overachievers. We don’t need to be in the majority. We just need to lead the way we always have. The way we’ve always led our great companies. With compelling vision, smart strategy, solid planning, good decision-making, and flawless execution.
The truth is that, in spite of all the fear mongering rhetoric, America is still far and away the most powerful nation on Earth.
The top two most powerful corporate brands in the world are Apple and Google. The top seven are all American companies. We build the most innovative products and the most successful companies in the world.
Everyone whines about our next generation of leaders. They say Gen Yers are lazy and entitled. But have you seen the median age at Apple, Google, and Facebook? Last time I checked, it was 33, 31, and 26, respectively. That’s Millennial territory.
And there’s no question that our military is second to none.
Don’t get me wrong. As with most overachievers, we are our own worst enemy. We sometimes make things harder on ourselves than they have to be. And yes, we have lost our way of late. America has been a divided nation for far too many years and administrations. That is unsustainable.
As a result of poor leadership, lack of unified direction, and horrendous fiscal strategy and discipline, America is in desperate need of a turnaround.
But our polarized and dysfunctional government, out-of-control debt, broken entitlement programs, overregulation, crazy tax code, and healthcare mess can all be fixed in time. It won’t be easy. It will be the greatest turnaround of all time. But with the right leadership, it can be done.
The only thing standing in the way is us.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.