Saturday, October 02, 2010

Obama and the “Mr. Chicken Complex”: The Arthur/Merlin management model

The Washington Post’s Anne E. Kornblut says President Obama’s new man, Pete “The Fixer” Rouse was once described by Obama as “completely ego-free.” Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary, is already ego-free. Or he appears to be. Better than being weak, malleable and fawning. I’m not sure they really understand what “ego free” means. Possibly they think of Rahm Emanuel as “egotistical” and Rouse the Fixer as the opposite or the anti-Emanuel. Emanuel is not egotistical. He is brash and aggressive. “Pushy” as Executive Secretary Ida Blankenship said last week before she died. It is different. But the choice to replace him with Rouse presents a flawed management model.

A secondary dog is not really “ego less” or should not be. Such a person would be mud. They are or should be keen of wit; sensory. Probably introverted and sensory. They are inner guide and shaman to the Extrovert as Tonto is to the Lone Ranger or Merlin is to Arthur. Or the Irish gardener in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” (Don Knotts stared in the 1966 classic. The quiet advisor is classically portrayed in American folk lore as an Irish gardener or an angel.) The one sees in, the other sees out. Thus they need each other. But Obama is no Arthur. He himself prefers quiet and would probably be a good Merlin to Colin Powell if he were president or Elizabeth Warren if she were president or Rahm Emanuel if he were mayor of Chicago. That is why Obama prefers the quiet pretention of Harvard Yard to the brawling shirt sleeves of Fenway Park and doesn’t understand why it makes ordinary people so mad, so he thinks common people are boorish.

Emmanuel might be a good mayor for Chicago. He was a bad fit for this White House as he was Alpha Dog without a pack. The only thing they all had in common was that they were all from Chicago. Which doesn’t work outside Chicago. (Like Tim Hortens coffee shops outside of Canada.) I know Chicago. I like it. It costs five dollars to fix a ticket where the same bride will cost $150 in Boston.

There is a neurosis in the White House. What you want is an Arthur/Merlin relationship. The naturally aggressive chief executive out front and the quiet introvert advising. If you don’t have it you get the “Mr. Chicken complex” (which I made up) in which leadership is a ghost. Meaning the movie, not the excellent restaurants with the big chicken statues in Ohio. But Emmanuel was the aggressive executive, and Obama the introspective and pensive professor. What he could do for Emanuel in Chicago is write those great speeches that he gives. It is Merlin’s job. Obama would be the perfect advisor to Emanuel in the Chicago job.

As far as personality type and management models go, they had been getting it backwards. Now it will be worse with Rouse, but as is suggested in the Kornblut piece, it looks like a temporary deal. If Obama/Emanuel was a backwards Merlin/Arthur Introvert/Extrovert management model with the Introvert dominating, you could call Obama/Rouse a Merlin/Merlin model. Two (or more) small dogs and no big dog. Colleges are like that.

But that Obama with Emanuel saw his sidekick instead of himself as the aggressor is not good. And he sees that in Elizabeth Warren as well.

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