Mufi’s ‘Experts’: Going Too Far?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 21, 2007
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It was with great interest that I read about Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s suggestion that transportation experts, not politicians, should be making technical decisions for Oahu’s new mass transit system.

The mayor is asking the City Council to set up a panel of experts to select technology for the new billion-dollar fixed guideway system planned to link residential and business areas along Oahu’s leeward front.

This is an interesting turn of events, since most politicians consider themselves experts.

In this case, the mayor is trying to persuade others to follow his advice/suggestion. Clearly it was not an order. The mayor is too smart to try that approach.

This process can be contrasted with power, which is a personal or positional attribute and enables one to influence others. The mayor is embarking on a new sustainable kind of influence since nothing else seems to have worked and time is of the essence.

A number of popular books on the subject strongly suggest that influence must replace the use of formal authority in relationships, especially those involving subordinates, peers, outside contacts and others on whom the job makes one dependent.

Simply put, the mayor can’t influence City Council members without their approval. The bottom line is the rapidity of change in government organizations, the diversity of the people involved, goals and values, and diminishing acceptability of formal authority (especially in an election year).

So what the taxpayers are witnessing is the need for transformational leaders who will allow networks to funnel diverse views upward from the lower level of the organization, where a need for change is often first detected.

Recent research suggests that the “ambassador role” of representing one’s staff is vitally important to all levels of management.

Most will agree Hannemann is a very good at being a transformational leader. But this new approach of asking the City Council to appoint a panel of experts may be going too far. After all, how will the council agree on who the expert is? They already have a council of experts advising them, who, in some cases, even provided them with transportation to and from their homeland.

What is the definition of a expert on fixed guideway systems? Or better yet, what is the definition of an expert in the technology of fixed guide-way systems?

I don’t have a clue, but it does seem like it would depend on whether the expert was selling or buying the system.

If someone goes to Las Vegas every month for a week and gambles every day, is that person an expert gambler? If he or she wins every time, then you might consider them an expert or maybe just lucky. The research shows that such a person is an experienced, but not necessarily an expert gambler.

The truth of the matter may be that power from expertise is unusually tentative and fragile like the first strands of a spider’s web. From there more strands are woven, and explains how expertise is extended to become sustained influence.

It appears Mayor Hannemann has presented the City Council with a very appealing proposition.

But a political expert would predict that the council won’t touch the idea with a 10-foot pole.

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