Self-Help for Governments That Might Actually Work.

Author:Lesner, Craig
Position:The Bookshelf

City on the Line Andrew Kleine RL, October 2018 292 pages, $35

Self-help books of all shapes and sizes sell millions each year by promising to help you make your problems go away. Whether your problem is your weight (generally too much as opposed to not enough) or that you need to save more money or that your kids aren't doing what you want, self-help books are there to help you focus on the source of your problems and get on a path toward becoming a better you. There's a new one each year, touting a new method or a new special sauce. And you buy it, because the last one worked for a while--until it didn't.

The problem is that these books often "work" by offering an easy way out of a problem that we all know, deep down, doesn't have an easy solution. The way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you ingest, eat a balanced diet, and work out. Personally, this is in direct conflict with my desire to eat all the steak and bacon 1 want while thinking I can actually lose weight as long as I don't eat any carbs along with them.

Government self-help books don't tend to be much different.

Take the No. 1 bestseller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... And Others Don't, by Jim Collins. It's a great book, and you should read it--but think about the following excerpt: "You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it's your job to get it going. You have to decide where you're going, how you're going to get there, and who's going with you."

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they're going--by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with "where" but with "who." They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline--first the people, then the direction--no matter how dire the circumstances."

I can read about about buses and understand pretty easily who should get on and where they should sit. Implementing what I just read is the hard part. The point is, how can I get 20-year tenured government employees to change? What happens, for example, if they don't like buses? (Look it up--it's called trochophobia.) Most books gloss over this vital discussion for those who know what we're supposed to do but can't seem...

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