Tuesday May 03 , 2016
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What Shall We Call It?

A good friend of mine has been asking me to come up with a term other than leadership for how John Boehner (R-OH) has been operating as the Speaker of the House.  Unfortunately, leadership comes in many forms and whether we like it or not, our current speaker is exercising leadership, though it is a version of which we would prefer to see less.  Leadership is about getting people to do what they would otherwise not do, and leaders use power to get people to do things.  In the literature, there are five forms of power, so we ought to examine where the Speaker is on our power chart.

The first form, the best form, is that of referent power.  This is the power of leaders to motivate people because the followers want to be like the leader--a reference of what a leader ought to be.  These type leaders are few and far between, particularly in today's political jungle, but they are there.  Imagine that individual who might have charisma but also has the chops to get things done--talks the talks and walks the walk.

Other forms of power include expert power and legitimate power.  Boehner certainly has the latter but my not have the former.  Legitimate power comes from the place one occupies on the organizational chart.  The Speaker is at the apex of the republican conference pyramid.  His position gives him power and many defer to him based on this position.  Expert power may be a bit more allusive for the Speaker.  He has certainly served a long time, but we really have not seen any expertise out of him other than being able to set a legislative agenda.  He has failed time and again to get things moved through the house, so one wonders why others might "follow" him.

The last two forms of power are reward and coercive power.  Now we are getting to the heart of matters.  Clearly, Speaker Boehner uses these powers more than all the rest because these seem to be the only ones he has mastered.   Rather than exercising servant-leader skills, he behaves at times like a petulant child (like anyone else we know?) or like a frustrated and harried parent with recalcitrant teenagers storming around.  Either way, he clearly lacks something in getting people to do what is best for the country.  The only way he seems to be able to move the ball is by punishing those who do not toe the line and by intimidating all others.  This may technically be leadership, but it is not the kind we need in the Republican Party.

Hopefully, someone will pull the Speaker into a quiet room and tell him to lead like a man or to get out of the way so someone else with more skills can take up the banner of conservatism.  What has become clear in this lame duck session is that Boehner is no conservative and his leadership style leaves a lot to be desired.  Suddenly, Newt doesn't look so bad.