Mayor, Governor, President

Freakonomics Radio offers a great conversation on the differences between serving the public as a mayor, a governor, or a president. All serve in the executive branch. All are accountable come election time. But the tools, tactics, and tone of their public service are dramatically (and necessarily) different.

Mayor, Governor, President

Flickr user North Charleston

Mayors can make a daily and direct impact on the lives of their constituents — road repair, public safety, public works, execution of policy citizens can see and experience. While that means their personal actions can shape their city, it also means they’re continually subject to the mundane.

Governors and presidents, on the other hand, often govern abstract things that aren’t perceivable by constituents in everyday life. Economic policies, global treaties, industry regulations, trade agreements. Their work requires collective action on a broader scale, and their accountability is more diffuse and opaque.

Some in the podcast suggest that the mayoral approach could be the salvation of a broken national political process. Others argue that the hands-on, take-charge techniques of effective mayors couldn’t work in the hazy world of national politics.

Either way, cultural managers are always well served by knowing how their peers in public process work, and what constitutes ‘success’ for them. Your best success at advocating for your organization, your discipline, or your field will come when you stop talking, and start listening to how the processes around you work.

So, listen up.


  1. says

    Andrew: There’s an excellent book from the mid 90s, “Why People Don’t Trust Goverment,” (Nye, Zelikow, & King) that, in part, explains that people tend to view local public officials in a more positive light than those more removed from them such as governors or, more removed still, presidents. It is, as you note, the daily and direct contact that local governments have with people’s lives — along with their perceived accessbility — that makes them, according to the authors, more trustworthy. – Linda