Why a CEO president is not the solution
I was reading with interest Liliane’s blog post where she imagines a utopia in which Lebanon was being run by a CEO. Liliane, who works in a multinational corporation, wrote: “If such a multi-national company serving more than 1 billion monthly active users can operate successfully [..] then there is hope for a country with 4 million to do the same”
If I want to see my Lebanon function properly, we need a good CEO whose sole purpose is to see this country grow, its people work together for a better Lebanon [..] We need a good CEO who hires ministers that are competent and qualified, who in turn hire competent and qualified people for their ministries
The CEO president is a common dream for many. On the surface it sounds like a an enlightened aspiration, but on closer inspection, the CEO president is not very different from the “benevolent dictator” or “ruthless military ruler” fantasies. These are all utopias where a leader not only knows what the best interest of a country is, but is absolutely empowered and uninterrupted in his execution of his vision (for some reason, he’s always a “he”).
The dream of heroic figureheads, whether visionary (Dubai-style benevolent dictator), powerful (General Sisi of Egypt) or data-driven (Zukerberg), promises to bring lebanon things it sorely needs: Discipline, common purpose and efficiency. These heroes look down on politics as “messy” and “chaotic” nuisances. They also have no patience for the toll politics extract on efficiency and achieving goals. This appeals to many people who just want to get on with life, but it is misguided.
Countries are not one-man-shows
The problem with a CEO president is the same as with other benevolent dictators: Countries are messy things with messy forces at play. They have no clear objectives like companies (grow and make profits) and they are not rigid hierarchal structures like armies. They are living, growing things with contradictory forces that simply cannot be whipped into shape without huge losses to personal liberties and diversity. Politics are messy because people’s relationships with each other are messy.
The best thing political leadership can achieve is to nudge and coax people into working together for a prosperous future that can be accepted by a majority of the population. Sometimes the process is ugly and involves compromises that many will find tasteless. But this is the price we pay for dynamic societies and liberty. A benevolent dictator can quickly lose patience with human rights activists or other “irritations” that distract from achieving whatever goal the dear leader deems crucial.
If Facebook was a country
Mark Zukerberg woke up with a headache this morning. The Data Liberty Resistance (DLR) faction in Facebook, which represents about 35% of the employees and is seen as sympathetic to Google, is threatening to shut down Facebook’s servers if its demands of replacing PHP with Python as the main programming language in Facebook are not met. The DLR had found a strategic ally in the General movement for Facebook Change (GMFC), representing almost 15% of Facebook’s employees and led by a megalomaniac who wants to replace Zukerberg as CEO. Employees whisper that Yahoo! is secretly funding the GMFC insurgency.
Zukerberg would have done something about it, but his allies at the Future of Facebook Fraternity (FFF), representing almost 35% of the employees, are encouraged by their sponsors at Microsoft to compromise with the DLR. They are proposing the .Net framework as a “no victor, no vanquished” solution that would make everyone better off. The GMFC meanwhile is smelling a rat and are threatenning to turn off the electricity on the Facebook servers if the DLR and the FFF worked out a deal behind its back.
Zukerberg will have to find a compromise and convince all the factions that if the servers are shut the future of Facebook will be in danger. If only, he thought wistfully, there was such a thing as a CEO President.
Update: Thank you to Beirut Spring readers Karim and Oussama for sharing these relevant articles with us:
- Financial Times: Why CEOs shouldn’t run the world
- Wall Street Journal: The Case Against a CEO in the Oval Office
Personal Note: In case you’re wondering where I have been, I am busy welcoming a new member of my family: A healthy baby girl that is one lovely bundle of joy…