The America that has led the world for the last century has done so by safeguarding the needs of its citizens, banking on the ability of those citizens to push forward with optimism and hard work, and creating an environment in which ideas can be fostered and dreams lived.
As the election approaches, it has never been clearer to me that government officials--Republicans and Democrats alike--need to take their cues from start-ups and small businesses as they shape the government--not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.
Here's what I recommend to President Obama and Governor Romney:
Define your mission and stick to it.
The best businesses define a mission in detailed terms from day No. 1. Once the mission is set, they do not stray from it. The mission informs every product choice, new hire, and budget decision. This kind of consistency needs to happen in Washington, too. Each candidate must define his core values in clear terms, and then talk about every program he supports, change he hopes to make, and new initiative he wants to undertake in terms of those values.
Spend what you can afford.
Successful businesses don't just avoid bankruptcy, they flourish. To do this, you can't spend more than you have. If the balance between expenses and intake is upset, it has to be righted in thoughtful, well-planned ways. If a business, for example, needs to cut expenses, the owner would not cut off the electricity that runs his computers to save money; he would, say, seek out a cheaper source for supplies. In the same way, politicians need to learn to make judicious cuts where cuts can happen with the least disturbance to the core values and functions of government.
Profit doesn't equal prosperity.
Profit is a transactional amount that results when mathematical formulas are applied. Prosperity, on the other hand, does not happen unless all the conditions are right. Small business owners know that devoting resources to the well-being of employees is essential to ensuring the well-being of business. A sick employee cannot perform the job. An employee not paid a living wage cannot buy the products his company makes. All of this affects the climate in which the business operates, and directly impacts success. The Presidential candidates must understand this, too. Universal health care is great, but only if the costs of medical services are within reach of those covered. Markets without controls may seem like unfettered areas for opportunity but the reality is, they only offer a chance to pillage and plunder, not necessarily sustained growth.
When Americans, and business owners in particular vote, they must remember that the choice has implications far beyond the next four years. Are we setting the stage for a return of the dark days of the robber barons where the few are mighty but their days are numbered? Or are we seeking to continue the prosperity that has helped America stand tall when other nations were on their knees?