Those who say the government should be run like a business are getting their wish. The same cultural factors that are destroying America's corporate culture are destroying government. The elevation of greed and materialism, the ascendance of Destructive Achievers in politics, and the resulting preoccupation with short-term solutions to long-term problems—are affecting government just as they have corporations.
The results are even worse when government becomes corrupt, because democratically elected politicians determine the ground rules for everything that happens in business as well as in society at large. As DAs begin to dominate, government begins to serve the interests of the DA's supporters and the DAs career, rather than the public.
Interviews with over 2,000 corporate personnel suggest that there are at least three kinds of Destructive Achievers, each one of which has a counterpart in government. Remember that each of the three types looks, talks, and acts like a true Leader. He has read all the books about leadership, has had courses in leadership, and knows the "spin" of Leaders.
Their problem: Instead of contributing to the betterment of the corporation's product or service, they master the promotional system of their organization. Image becomes more important than performance, their personal success becomes more important than ethics, and results that get them promoted—or elected—are more important than results that benefit society.
The Absolutist Destructive Achiever
The absolutist DA is not necessarily intentionally unethical. In fact, he may be a self-righteous manager who strongly believes in his or her own absolute value system. As one staffer noted:
You can disagree with him about almost any technical subject. In fact, he seems to enjoy it; he brags about how his staff will fight him all the time.
But never disagree on some issues, especially about people. If a mistake is made, it's never an honest mistake. The guy was either careless, lazy, or incompetent. And if you defend him, you open yourself to attack—of even being disloyal. Your own personal standards are suspect.
Self-righteous managers like these have integrity in the moral sense, in that they consciously live by the strict standards they have set for themselves and everyone else. But their values—respect for others, openness to debate of important issues, and "for me or against me" orientation—prevents them from objectively addressing organizational problems.
George Bush is probably a political example of the absolutist Destructive Achiever. It's hard to tell if it is a defense mechanism against criticisms of incompetence, or whether it's been ingrained in his personality that he and his associates are the holders of ultimate truth. And anyone who disagrees with his policies is either wrong or disloyal.
The Dishonest Destructive Achiever
A relatively small number of DAs have a self-serving orientation well beyond the normal, to the point of dishonesty. In the corporation, he may claim credit for results that were achieved by others, or may withhold information that a competitor associate may need. As one subordinate described his boss:
Last week he took a break from a meeting and gave me a call. He said that he told them that we had already done the tests, and that it would be my neck if I didn't get them back by 11:30. I can't believe that he hasn't been caught doing things like that.
In some cases, the dishonesty may become so chronic that the person is almost unaware that he's violating commonly accepted standards of behavior.
Richard Nixon appears to be this kind of Destructive Achiever. Personal accounts of his staff suggest that Nixon appeared to not be aware of the extent of his unethical behaviors in the Watergate scandal.
It's likely that Bush and Nixon possess(ed) healthy doses of both the absolutist and the dishonest Destructive Achiever.
The majority of DAs in corporations were originally potential Builders and Leaders who learned the wrong lessons in anti-ethical organizational environments. As a result of work experiences—and sometimes training—they lost their idealism and became "realistic, bottom-line" achievers. A subordinate described his boss:
He is a real politician. He is undercutting (another support staff) in doing work for the plants. He wants to become a plant manager, and is doing everything for his own needs—which means what the plant needs. Once (the other support staff) was requested to do something, and they responded that it would take three months. He said we could do it in one month. We almost made the deadline, but while were on this project our support for other groups (that were felt to have less influence in the performance appraisal system) went to hell.
Bill Clinton appears to fit the description of the developed Destructive Achiever. After he lost his second election for Governor of Arkansas, he apparently decided that he would never again lose an election by not being conservative enough, or by not using every political "tool" (Dick Morris, survey results, focus groups, etc.) available.
Our political climate has degenerated to the extent that practically all Republicans and most Democrats are developed Destructive Achievers. Even those who don't want to behave like DAs (erroneously) feel like they are forced to do so.
"You can't influence public policy if you're not in office" becomes their excuse for doing whatever it takes to win an election. This attitude results in all those behaviors that destroy a government for the people. They:
We've never been able to figure out how to reliably prevent the cyclical decline of corporations—or civilizations. As a matter of fact, the ethics of our present leaders may be no worse than they always have been. However, their values, methods and misdeeds have never before been so thoroughly publicized and accepted as normal.
And maybe anti-ethics is the natural course of societies or organizations as they achieve success. Average citizens become more "sophisticated" about the apparent nature of man and organizations, and materialism becomes the criterion for the good life, instead of virtue or wisdom. I hope not. Or, at least, I hope this tendency can be modified.
It is realistic to believe that no organization or society is "perfectible." But it's also realistic to believe that we must vote for those politicians who honestly strive for a more perfect society, and who have a healthy respect for the ethical principle of utility. To do otherwise is to abdicate to the natural entropy of power, as the Destructive Achievers take over.