Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Barack Obama on leadership

I have been fascinated by reading the accounts of the "embedded" reporters in the major political campaigns over the last 18 months or so, published in Newsweek after the election. They described the chaos of the Clinton campaign (assumed at the time to be the winner) and its infighting and power struggles--staffers quarreling over titles, key advisors who refused to speak to each other even about strategy and policy, personnel that could not be in the same room together.

When the Clinton campaign folded, the Obama campaign swooped in to snag some of the best and the brightest to continue working for a Democrat victory. They apparently came into the Obama circle ready to continue their old ways, negotiating for more prestigious titles than those already working in the campaign, continuing their old feuds and so on. The article described the difficulty they had adjusting to an organization where conflict, if it occurred at all, took place behind closed doors, where people were identified by function rather than title, where everything was about the mission--streamlined, efficient, focused. As someone said, "No-drama Obama is in charge here."

So I was interested to see what the president-elect had to say (in Time magazine) in his own words:

"I don't think there's some magic trick here. I think I've got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I've got a pretty healthy ego, so I'm not scared of hiring the smartest people even when they're smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you've got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done."

"I'm not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is jsut making people feel really guilty. Like "Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more." And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you're clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage . . . Now there are exceptions. There are time when guilt doesn't work and then you have to use fear."

"Outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a president and an administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on fact and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient.' "

Obama appears to be an exceptional leader but, of course, he has never led the free world--he has a lot to prove. Still, I want to use the word . . . hmmm . . what is it? Self-differentiated? Yeah, that's it.

No comments: