New College Prof: What We Lose by Rejecting Competence and Expertise

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tags: Florida, Ron DeSantis, New College of Florida

Aaron Hillegass, founder of Big Nerd Ranch, is the director of Applied Data Science at New College of Florida. He is the executive director of the Kontinua Foundation, which is developing free STEM education materials for high school students.

I teach at New College of Florida where leadership was recently replaced as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to woo MAGA voters. My views on this change are colored by my past: I was the CEO of a midsize tech company for more than a decade.

To most people in Florida, this event is inconsequential, but I think it is part of a large and serious problem. Florida’s leaders, Republican leaders in particular, have forgotten the importance of stewardship and competence.

One part of leadership is high-profile: the CEO who flies to New York and closes a huge deal. However, most of quality leadership is rather mundane stewardship. The president of the United States, for example, is a steward of the national parks. There is no high-profile win there. You just put someone competent in charge and make sure that they get the resources they need. I wish there were some way to make this part of the job look as heroic as it really is.

Most of the truly beautiful things about America were created by competent managers who were given time and a small but stable budget. President Donald Trump had only disdain for this aspect of his job. His appointees were a terrifying cadre of the corrupt and the incompetent. Several openly loathed the organizations that they led. As DeSantis courts Trump’s base, he has adopted Trump’s attitude: Stewardship is for suckers.

Here is the problem: Competence is much less common than we like to think. A good leader treasures competent managers because they are so valuable and so rare.

What about bad leaders? Competent people don’t tolerate political shenanigans. After they quit or are fired, their seats are refilled from a pool of people who will do anything the bad leader requests. In the end, we get managers who lack either the skill or the integrity to do the job well.


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