The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

By Colin Campbell; Bert A. Rockman | Go to book overview

11
Leadership Style and the Clinton Presidency

BERT A. ROCKMAN

Leadership invites speculation. Precisely because leadership is about decision making under conditions of uncertainty, we can never be certain about what was the right decision to take or the right strategy to be applied. We can only guess with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes hindsight clarifies the path that a decision maker could have taken to achieve an outcome that was more desirable or politically effective. Frequently hindsight merely illuminates the traps that lay in wait for the decision maker regardless of the direction in which he or she turned.

A leader's policy goals and political goals can come into conflict as well. A desirable policy outcome from the leader's perspective may prove to be incompatible with an outcome that also enhances the leader's political prospects. Perhaps more frequently, what leaders sometimes must do to sustain their political prospects precludes them from achieving their policy goals.

Nor do decisions and problems come as discrete packages to leaders. They are often entangled and interconnected, and they often arrive in ways that are unexpected. Choices about one affect the prospects of others, but the consequences of those choices can only be guessed about in advance; they cannot be known.

A leader deemed to be effective is one who keeps a steady ship while being buffeted around by forces he or she cannot directly control. Leadership is tough everywhere. American political institutions (which diffuse power) make it especially tough for those who come to the office of president. The decisions that presidents make are rarely decisive even when they are, as they almost always are, important. The problems presidents want to deal

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