Being in a leadership position, particularly one that so clearly involves politics, requires applying judgment in gray space. The “right” thing to do is not so clearly defined by the environment. Does the greater good / lesser evil phenomenon apply? Are there other options that we have not explored yet? Is there enough trust between the Director and the Governor to have a truthful “fireside chat” that might clear up assumptions about whether the former-mayor appointment suggestion was bonafide or political posturing?
This scenario leaves me with questions. I’d be looking for more context. A political decision is rarely about merely the issue on the table. There are many acceptable ways to deal with this. My way may not be the best way for someone else, but hey… I’m getting paid to fill the position now.
If I were in this situation, I would get my stuff together (about the job, the outcomes I’d be looking for, the appointment candidates, the former mayor and the governor) and I’d blend a follow up conversation into my next “routine” meeting with the Governor. Of course, getting our act together (collecting and vetting the details) would be in large measure, delegated – and the basis for our conversation (between the governor and I) might be desired outcome of the economic planning post – not the appointment directly.
If I knew the desired outcome could not be achieved through the appointment of the former mayor to that post, I wasn’t clear how strong the Governor’s position is, and I wasn’t prepared to risk alienating the Governor over this issue, I would have a fall back position ready. I would try to make the decision less relevant. For example, I would be prepared to shift authority for my desired outcome program to another position that would either allow me to hire my preferred candidate (under another title) or otherwise manage the outcome differently. The goal of this shift would be to make the appointment less of an issue, assure the outcome I wanted, AND win the support from a Governor who now owes me a favor for appointing his choice.
This sort of thing has lots of variables, but the point I’m trying to make is when things around you are unclear, it’s all the more important to be clear yourself – to keep your eye on the ball. If you know your desired outcome and aren’t married to any one particular method for achieving that outcome, a lot of the sticking points that people are willing to fight you over become assets. You can use them as negotiating points to win support for the things you really want to do down the road.
You can compromise on the terms without compromising on your ethics. Reframe the situation in such a way as you can remain faithful to your ethics without sacrificing the outcome or creating unnecessary enemies.
Of course, in this scenario we’re not going to hire the former mayor under any circumstances if he’s going to be a bozo or if we can’t control him/her. We can’t ignore the possibility that the Governor really doesn’t like our program and wants to keep it weak. As unpleasant as it sounds, not every suggestion that comes your way is in your best interest. Sometimes people get appointed simply because they are known to be weak. As the new Director, you are responsible for successful outcomes. You can’t afford to allow someone to side track you from your objectives.