Ron Paul and the pink slip that could decide the election
Have you ever woken up in the morning knowing you have to let someone go and just felt sick to your stomach? It’s the worst part of work, isn’t it? Even when it’s absolutely necessary — the money isn’t there or the employee hasn’t been contributing for ages — the emotional pain and mess of sending someone home is every good leader’s bête noire.
To make matters worse, letting someone go is, without doubt the moment when every leader is the most likely to screw up. Really screw up. Because when you fire a person the wrong way — that is, without generosity and respect — you can be sure of two things.
You’ve hurt someone unnecessarily.
And you’ve set up your organization for a future relationship from hell. After all, terminated employees don’t just fade away. They usually reappear, and pretty rapidly, as customers, suppliers, distributors, or in the worst-case scenario, competitors with an ax to grind.
By the way, this is a column about Ron Paul.
Yes, Ron Paul, and here’s why. The maxims of business and politics don’t always overlap, but when it comes to parting ways, they sure do. In business, firing someone incorrectly is a disaster that can haunt you for years. Same in politics.
Now, the GOP isn’t technically going to “fire” Dr. Paul. But look, even Ron Paul knows he’s not going to unpack his suitcases in the Lincoln Bedroom. At some point, his wildly entertaining, Don Quixote-like campaign for the White House is going to run out of time.
And then, GOP, watch out! Sure, it appears Paul is unlikely to mount a third-party campaign — he’s said so himself. But he’s also unlikely to spend the next few months out on the stump for the nominee, or even in dutiful silence. In fact, you can easily imagine Paul as an outspoken TV commentator from now until November, basically running without running just to keep his ideas in the mix.
But Paul is not really the GOP’s problem. It’s his followers, perhaps as much as 15 percent of the general electorate, many of them young, vocal and highly energized. Like Paul himself, they’re not exactly party regulars. No, Paul and his followers promise to be a lot like that fired employee who, if “handled” incorrectly at farewell, will make it his life’s work to, if not bring your organization down, at least show you how very wrong you were to cut the cord.
The Republican Party would be flat-out careless to let that happen. Dr. Paul’s exit isn’t exactly going to be unexpected. Plus, the GOP leadership has an excellent example of how to correctly part ways right under its nose — in President Obama’s masterful handling in 2008 of Hillary Clinton, a bitter opponent right to the end, and Joe Biden, an early loser in the Democratic primary race. Both of these “terminated” rivals, along with Bill Clinton and his minions, could have easily spent Obama’s general-election campaign and his first term engaged in subterfuge, natter-nattering to the media about the Newbie-in-Chief’s every little misstep. Instead, Hillary Clinton was given a big job and a big jet and the opportunity to become the most popular woman in America. And rather than being trundled back to his commuter seat on the Amtrak to Delaware, the gaffe-ridden Biden was anointed vice-president and given the not-insignificant job of humanizing the more aloof Obama, a role he clearly relishes.
And so it must be with the RNC and Ron Paul. There can be no brush-off. No “Phew, he’s gone. Now let’s get down to business.” No booby prize. Ron Paul needs to be given a role that really means something to him –- a role with influence and voice.
The details of this role are not for us to identify — they can only emerge from the kind of good-faith negotiations that party officials should initiate soon with the candidate. All we can say is, in this kind of setting, as in the best-practice business parting, the “victor” must err on the side of bigheartedness and dignity. Whatever speaking role Dr. Paul wants at the convention, give it to him. If he wants some sort of advisory role in the new administration, the answer is: “Of course.” Like a business leader designing a severance package with a key player, the GOP leadership’s mindset must be: “When he walks out that door, Ron Paul is going to be a friend for life.”
Because if he isn’t, Ron Paul and his followers will make their unhappiness known. And for the mishandling of this defining moment, the GOP will deserve their ire.
Just like any leader who botches goodbye.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate U.S .Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) makes a point during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Jacksonville, Florida January 26, 2012. REUTERS/Scott Audette