While most folks assess President Obama’s 100 days through the lens of politics and presidential leadership, I am, as always interested in the lens of “everyday leadership.” What can you and I learn as we try to lead with our best selves? To me, two clear lessons and one question-mark.
Lesson One: Communicate, communicate, communicate These are challenging times -for the country, but also for our businesses, our cities, our state, our families. In these times, people need both reasonable assurance that things will improve and also clear and repeated messages that help them to interpret what’s happening. Are you talking to your team(s), children, and others with the frequency the President is speaking to us? Are you both continuing to clarify the ends, the vision, the purpose; but also continuing to explain, “dad’s a little anxious because…” or “if we lose the Ford business…” People CAN handle the truth.
Lesson Two: Candor, candor, candor President Obama has pushed the envelope by telling the truth – whether it is releasing CIA documents; or not being too hasty in retreat from Iraq; admitting his mistake on Tom Daschle’s vetting or flying planes over New York; or, to our chagrin in Detroit, pushing Chrysler and GM so very hard. He’s telling it like it is, as he sees it. He gives the rationale for everything he’s doing. It’s a gamble in terms of conventional wisdom to be so very open – even admitting mistakes or changing course – but what a breath of fresh air!!!!
Lesson Three: How many initiatives is too many? Much is foisted on a president, and in contrast to George Bush on e.g., Katrina, President Obama has been quick to weigh in – on pirates to pig flu. He is also pushing ALL of his agenda items. The “yay” from the cheerings fans is: he can do it all, because these are special circumstances in that he has very strong backing, and the public is really paying attention (would that my wife as governor could get people so attentive and have so many vehicles to use). But the boo is that we need a near-relentless focus on the economy – here are my guiding principles, here is my endgame, here’s what I’m doing today about jobs, here’s what YOU should be doing? At some point people are so preoccupied with their own business – and so focused on the central issue of jobs and work – that they will get impatient with all these other initiatives. But for now, he seems to be walking that tightrope with great balance and moving toward the next platform.
The lessons for us: talk to your people ((and LISTEN to them)) til you’re blue in the face. Risk telling the truth all the time. Gauge their level of interest, but by all means stay on the key message, make it sticky and repeat it frequently.