Eric Martin

Jul 24, 2021

4 min read

Management Styles of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as Presidents

The modern presidency led by the Franklin Roosevelt administration ushered in more than one hundred new executive branch agencies. This led to the 1937 Committee on Administrative Management (the Brownlow Committee) and the guidance “The president needs help” (Pfiffner, 2011). We will examine the differing management styles in dealing with the White House staff of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. President Johnson was volatile and dominant-Nixon, more hands-off, and slightly paranoid. With their different management styles, they were able to pass significant legislation, Johnson the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

President Johnson was a dominating figure who made his White House a difficult place to work. He demanded credit for his administration’s accomplishments and absolute loyalty from his subordinates (Pfiffner, 2011, p. 3.4). His management style was described as a wheel with the president in the center in the middle, and all of his key staff members are the spokes radiating out from the hub (Redford, 2014, p. 52). The image of a wheel is a perfect illustration of a president who needs hands-on control over his entire staff.

Preferring to have control over the day-to-day actions of his staff, Johnson never hired a Chief of Staff. According to a personal friend, Johnson also displayed volatile mood swings “Lyndon has a clock inside him with an alarm that tells him at least once an hour to chew somebody out.” As a result of his dominating style, only two of the twelve top staffers he had in 1964 were still with him in 1968 (Johnson, 1974, p. 179–180).

Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency in 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As the former Senate Majority Leader, Johnson was very familiar with the senate process, and he used his lone wolf approach to making personal telephone calls to key legislators. Within three months after he became President, he had the satisfaction of seeing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Karatzas, 2016).

Combined with his short temper, President Johnson stood tall at over 6'4. His intimidating size and attitude helped renew the Democratic desire for an expanding federal government. His administration ushered in significant federal spending programs that resembled Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Called the Great Society, his administration increased spending on education, healthcare, and poverty programs. Some of the Great Society programs have been eliminated; others such as Medicare, Medicaid, and federal spending on education have been expanded and funded by preceding administrations.

When entering the white house, President Richard Nixon’s initial plan was to delegate authority to his cabinet members (Pfiffner, 2011, p. 3.4). Delegating authority to subordinates is in stark contrast to his predecessor, John, who ran a tight ship, as we mentioned. It wasn’t until the democrat-controlled Congress failed to give in to his demands that he switch to strategies. With his demands left unfulfilled, Nixon becomes increasingly paranoid. He starts to believe that a wide array of forces were intent on frustrating his aims.

President Nixon thought that Congress, along with the career bureaucracy, was attempting to sabotage his policies. The President became isolated from nearly everyone else. He even concluded that his appointees in the executive departments had “gone native” This fear of anyone outside his close circle of advisors forced Nixon to rein in the departments and agencies under White House control. According to one Nixon staffer, “The White House became an echo chamber that magnified the voice of the president but sacrificed true pitch” (Hess & Pfiffner, 2002, p. 104).

Like Johnson before him, Nixon, with his character and managerial flaws, still pulled off some impressive feats. Two such examples are creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and establishing formal relations with China. Although he was disinterested in environmental policy, he was not opposed to the goals of the movement. He signed into law numerous pieces of environmental legislation. Through the National Environmental Policy Act, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. In 1970 he passed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act. In 1973 he passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Patterson, 1996).

Nixon also took the historic step of recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as China’s legitimate government. Recognizing the PRC as China’s legitimate government was something the United States refused to do since the end of the Chinese Civil war in 1949 (Herring, 2008, p. 775). This trip was successful for two reasons, both of which could only be done by Nixon. No one would confuse Nixon as a communist sympathizer, and he used that to his advantage, meeting personally with Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Communist Party of China. These meetings increased trade relations between the two countries and allowed Nixon to increase the pressure on the Soviet Union (Dallek, 2009, p. 300)

Even though they were flawed, they both oversaw historical events that arguably one else could.; Such as the passage of the Civil Rights Act and growing relations with China. When speaking of King David, a genuinely flawed but blessed man, the bible says, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Ac. 13:22). God often uses imperfect people to help spread his message.

References

Dallek, R. (2009). Nixon and Kissinger: partners in power. HarperCollins e-books.

Herring, G. C. (2017). From colony to superpower: U.S. foreign relations since 1776. Oxford University Press.

Hess, S., & Pfiffner, J. P. (2002). Organizing the Presidency. Brookings Institution Press.

Johnson, R. T. (1974). Managing the White House; an intimate study of six Presidents Richard T. Johnson. Harper & Row.

Karatzas, K. (2016). Lyndon B. Johnson and the Civil Right Act of 1964. Vestnik Volgogradskogo Gosudarstvennogo Universiteta. Serija 4. Istorija. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye Otnoshenija, 21(3), 25–33. https://doi.org/10.15688/jvolsu4.2016.3.3

Patterson, J. T. (1996). Grand expectations: the United States: 1945–1974. Oxford University Press.

Pfiffner, J. P. (2011). The modern presidency. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.