It is always interesting to observe politics at a distance. By and large, Americans are not familiar with the coalition form of government. In other countries, coalitions, as a formal mode of governance is part and parcel of everyday life. Leaders can learn much by observing the workings of a coalition government; specifically, there is much to learn by watching political leaders try to establish coalitions.
The latest lesson is being taught by Israel’s newest prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In his efforts to put together a government, Netanyahu began to negotiate with numerous parties, offering each one a position in government. Not having enough formal positions, he increased the number of ministerial positions to 30. Netanyahu clearly needed enough positions so that he could negotiate enough support for his coalition. Clearly, Netanyahu is in danger of inviting to many chefs into the kitchen and converting his potential coalition into a loosely organized clunker.
A large number in one’s coalition is almost always an asset. Sometimes coalitions have to ask themselves if the price they’re paying is worth it. When giving so many people so much say, at what point is the situation no longer governable and on the verge of the absurd. Increasing the size of your coalition expedites legitimacy in the short-term but it can ultimately drain the energy from your agenda. Leaders have to remember that too many chefs in the kitchen, although seemingly productive, can cause dangerous mistakes.
At a certain point, great leaders have to determine whether their coalition is really a coalition, or rather an overly complicated matrix of promises and deals. Your legitimacy as a leader will be questioned the moment it becomes obvious that you have created a coalition this is not based on commonality of purpose, but rather on short-term interests. Trying to pass off a loose confederation of interests as a true coalition will damage your leadership capacity, and not enhance it.
Oftentimes large confederations are too often based on the expected benefits that each faction hopes to receive, and not shared values and goals, and certainly not on the members’ perception of the credibility of the leader. Leaders of such a false coalition will have passive support as long as each member receives the expected benefit. The moment that those short-term benefits dry up, the passive support becomes reluctant and possibly non-existent.
True leaders understand that in order to achieve and maintain active support, they cannot operate on the expected-benefit model. They also have to rely on the participants’ belief in their credibility. When I believe there is something beneficial for me to gain, and at the same time, I believe in you and your ideas, I will be an active supporter.
In the case of Israel, Netanyahu will have only a short time to establish his credibility and solidify his support to active from passive. Is it worth the effort? That is the leadership question. At what point do leaders say to themselves, “Even though I can create a coalition, it will take too many chefs in the kitchen, that it will be such a clunker that I’ll never get anything worthwhile done. Maybe I should wait and govern another day.”