Balconies and Budgets

At heart, Mississippi leaders and legislators have good intentions.

But, as Samuel Johnson and others taught, good intentions often beget more hellish than heavenly results.

Witness the fracas in Jackson over budget cuts. All know cuts must be made. All seek the best way. Yet, we see no consensus, just fuss and factionalism.

Makes you wonder if those involved ever step away, get up on the balcony, and observe everyone’s behavior. Would such perspective give them new insight? Pull them together?

In “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” Ron Heifetz says yes, it would. That is about the only way authentic leaders can externalize conflict and see paths to resolution when dealing with difficult problems, he says.

No problem in Mississippi. Our venerable State Capitol has balconies galore.

But visitors to the balcony galleries in the House and Senate seldom walk away having seen resolution. And those peering over Rotunda balconies mostly see the oldest lobbyist in the world and his ilk plying their trade.

Rather than the broad perspective Heifetz suggests, our leaders tend to lock themselves into narrow perspectives. Reframing Organizations by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal helps us understand. Their study of leaders found tendencies to see the world from one of four frames: factory, family, jungle, or temple. Factory folk tie solutions to structure and organization. Family folk tie solutions to human needs. For jungle folk it’s all about power. Temple folk use inspiration.

Take a moment and figure out the frames in which your favorite elected officials fit.

Many see government decision making as jungle stuff – power games. Now, power games are real and do have impact. But, as with most things, it’s not that simple. Lasting solutions seldom result from crushing the opposition or reluctant compromise.

Lasting solutions to tough problems, say Bolman and Deal, occur when all four frames come together. Budget restructuring that takes into account human needs and reconciles power is still not enough. People must be inspired and motivated so they will earnestly implement solutions.

Such solutions, while painful at the front end, lay a solid foundation for the future.

Many will tire of the power games in Jackson. That’s when, if ever, factory and family forces will approach common ground. Will leaders then emerge who can inspire resolution?

If not, forget about the balconies at the State Capitol. Focus, instead, on the fact that it was built in 1903 on the site of the old state penitentiary, a site vexed with anger and shame. That will be a tolerable frame of mind as budget conflicts worsen into next year and good intentions rip asunder.

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