What Uncle Sam Can Learn from the Business World

As an organizational psychologist and executive coach, I have worked with a variety of clients, including major federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies. If there is any one thing I have taken away from these experiences it is that success--in any industry--is rooted in learning.

In the business world, mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities and business leaders who are able to learn from their mistakes create their own success.

During my stint as a government consultant, I quickly learned the federal government operates in somewhat of a bubble and frequently shunned the tried-and-true business models that have been the hallmark of corporate America success. Much to my dismay, I often observed a government that was slow in identifying and addressing any dysfunction. Here are three common mistakes that occur in the business world that our elected leaders and government officials can learn from.

Not Sticking to Your Values. Customers trust consistency and will become loyal to brands they trust. Successful companies have a clear set of foundational values that act as their compass, particularly in times of uncertainty.

The American public needs consistency from government leaders. As a nation, our most sacred values have always been freedom and entrepreneurialism. However, it’s not clear that our government consistently supports these values. Excessive regulation, bloated bureaucracy and unnecessary red tape create roadblocks to these two principles. Our politicians need to identify and articulate a core set of values or guiding principles that support the spirit of entrepreneurialism, not stifle it. The function of our government should be to support the efforts of small business owners and corporate executives in their efforts to create jobs.

Failing to Get Return on Investment. There is no such thing as “too big to fail” in the business world--this is purely a political concept.

When one business fails, it opens the door for another one to succeed. Every business owner and executive knows that business is about bottom line. In the business world, it’s not about spending, it’s about investing. Every decision centers on the financial viability of a venture. When businesses fail to make a return on their investment, they fail altogether.

As a country we have lost touch with the idea of spending with purpose. We have no requirements for a balanced budget, and there are no clear ramifications for failing to make a return on investment. Legislators need hold themselves accountable for the money they spend. There are far too many failed programs that continue to be funded because of political favors and deal making instead of their viability or the returns they produce.

Elevating Star Players to Coaches.  Americans should take some guidance from the sports world when it comes to voting in leaders. Look at any great American sport: You won’t find many great coaches who started out as star players. Great players rarely make great coaches. Yes, there are exceptions, but it’s certainly not the rule. Great coaches understand how to pick the right players, put them in the right positions, and motivate them to action. In business, when you hire or promote the wrong people the consequences can be fatal. 

When it comes to the business of government, we don’t need great players or star showman running this country, we need strong coaches. We need individuals willing to build a team and make the tough decisions when necessary. Getting the right people on board starts with voters electing good coaches. We need to be mindful of the allure of the “star player” and focus our attention on those who truly have the ability to manage and lead.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook