Posted tagged ‘freakonomics’

Do Chief Execs actually matter?

April 3, 2012

How much power do they really have?

Recently I have discovered the excellent Freakonomics podcast.  In the same style as the best-selling book by the same name, this podcast looks at the hidden meaning of everything, and how these things affect everything else; I highly recommend a download.

A recent hour-long special episode asked a simple question; would we notice if there was no president of the USA?  I won’t spoil the show itself by going into the detail, but basically the answer was probably not as much as you might think.  And this got me thinking: How much of the local government set up actually has power and would be noticed if they disappeared?

I’ll start today by considering the top of the heirarchical officer tree; the Chief Exec.  Widely seen by many, especially those who view these things from afar, as having total power and authority over the organisation, the Chief is the one individual who has ultimate responsibility for everything which goes on under the auspices of the Council.  Whilst from some angles this may indeed be the case, as with the US President it’s not anywhere near as clear cut as one may at first (from a distance) presume.

I need to make it clear that I’ve never been the head of a local authority, but I have spent two years as the head of a voluntary sector organisation.  Having been involved in that organisation for some time I began by believing that the top position was in essence that of a benevolent dictator, someone who was in total charge and would be able to make decisions and push strategy and delivery wherever they felt it should go.

In reality however, the position provided little in the way of substantial direct power.  Authority was permitted by members and the bodies which made up the organisation, but any delivery relied entirely upon their agreement and assent.  The role I performed gave me a solid platform and the ability to get my voice heard by all, and afforded my plans and opinions a degree of authority others perhaps did not have.  My role was not one of issuing orders and decrees and more one of cajoling, persuading and guiding, portraying the attitudes and traits I wanted to see replicated by others and essentially being the change I wanted to see in others. (more…)