After the Mid-Terms: Obama’s Leadership Imperatives


"America was not built on fear. America was built  on courage, 
on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand." Harry Truman 1947

As President Obama offers another olive branch and marshmallows one wonders if he understands the war for the soul of our Representative Republic he is in the mist of.  Maybe he just wants to be known as a nice guy. His new strategy is the one  he has been taking for two years-"Let's all just get along". I guarantee you this will not work when the Republicans are spouting off about the goals for their governing strategy--defeat Obama and take this country back to the future with more tax cuts for the wealthy and dismantling the New Deal cornerstones Social Security and Medicare. Maybe taking a page out of Harry Truman's  approach would suggest another and more assertive way to handle the party of "No"--Let's get the job done.


Two years ago, the country rallied behind a new President who promised to end the partisanship divide in America. Many of us thought Congress would be an active partner in solving problems for the American people.  President Obama seemed likely to restore leadership and respect for the Presidency with his action orientated problem solving approach and pragmatic political philosophy. He was seen as a “man of the people” during the campaign and now there is some disappointment from his over selling what could be done and our high expectations for constructive change that we could believe in. Little did we think he would have to deal with the party of “No” who voted against ideas and programs they use to believe in; cutting taxes in the stimulus bill. So my advise to the White House wake up the midterms showed that the barking dog Republicans don’t need to be fed any more soft balls. To my great disappointment President Obama  in his news conference he looked and portrayed himself as a defeated leader. Please Mr. President stop the denial and wounded animal act–Mr. Obama you can be proactive, supportive non-judgmental and empathic without caving in to the lobbyists, bankers and industrial profiteers. Stand-up for what you believe and if you are going to go down at least assert your boldness and ideas that gave us all hope and promised “Change we can believe in”.

During difficult economic times the question becomes–Do tough times make great leaders, or do great leaders emerge when the going gets tough? The ability to discuss the hows, whats and whys and still make decisions with incomplete information means that leaders must look into the face of your adversaries and tell them what you know the American people want. Even in  uncertainty, we all need to confront reality, develop a vision and strategy for change, make decisions and communicate constructive programs and action to help your followers believe again. Having a process to handle difficult times is critical for a leader and the administration’s to succeed.  A steady hand ans a firm grasp of the issues need to be shared with your constituents. Give us the vision and plan and we will support you. Your plan might include some of the following:

•    Pay attention to the people who brought you to the dance and are still willing to work for an agenda that solves the complex problems facing the country. contributions. Your followers are the life line for the dream of change to survive.
•    Be open to ideas and guidance from your Cabinet and hopefully new White House team. Don’t be manipulated by false promises of your enemies.

•    Communicate in a transparent and open way. Get out to the people and communicate your plan and why it is in their best interest to help you to keep pushing the Change agenda.

•    Respond to external pressures in realistic, yet positive, ways. Don’t panic stay calm. Lead.

During tough economic times, leaders need to be fully in touched with the needs of middle-class and poor creating a vision, strategy and demonstrable results to revitalize America. How about an Executive Order to establish a modern day WPA to put people back to work tomorrow.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself  Mr. President is “Am I an enlightened and transformational leader who responds to solving tough challenges in an assertive and  positive way?” Or a non-assertive doormat for the crazy on the “right”?  Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent leaders realize they can only build a climate of collaboration and agreements to solve problems with an honest and candid partner. Don’t count on Republicans to be that partner. We still want you to succeed and to do this we need to implement some of the lessons learned since you election.

Here is what I suggest to get this change train back on track–

Change and leadership are  not just about vision, strategy, balancing the budget or reducing the National debt. It is hooking followers on ownership, commitment and responsibility to something they believe in emotionally. It is about engaging people both inside and outside an organization in a clear and common sense approach to solving problems and creating new opportunities to create a BETTER LIFE. Leadership is about uniting in a shared goal and agenda AND ACCOMPLISHING SOME WOW’S. Remember wow is defined as a striking success not just small victories.

Many Americans got hooked on the optimistiism and passion of   ”Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes we can” slogans.  After yesterday, I began to reflect on our half victories, frustrations and continued wrangling in the Senate and concluded after your news conference where are we on the change agenda we voted for in the last election? Here are some of my ideas about lessons learned:

  • To be a leader of  complex change there must be three things : a leader, followers, and cooperative movement toward a mutually shared goal.  Thus change can not be accomplished without all three legs to the change stool.  The change process  is difficult. To get real change leaders must go from wonderful energetic ideas and words about change to a specific agenda of shared goals and concrete results.
  • Aligning your own party, followers and opponents takes more than awareness that CHANGE IS NEEDED. It takes being assertive to your true values and principles.
  • Best vision, strategy and plans, like Health Care, Financial Reform, Education and Energy etc.,  are not enough to guarantee success for a change agenda. It is people, not plans alone that determine outcomes and results.
  • Maslow was right about the hierarchy of needs–when the people feel a threat to their basic needs for safety and survival they become anxious, angry and often frozen in place clinging to the status quo.
  • Leaders often present logical, rational and right brain change goals but this approach is limited because it by passes the critical emotional elements of  core principles based on values and passion. These elements are  essential to sell and build commitment for change.
  • Vested interest will not let go of their advantages and status without strong pressure from the leader and masses. Peace making is a wonderful value but you need honest brokers on the other side who are committed to the greatest for the great number.
  • Don’t start from a position of weakness and compromise before the negotiations start. You will end up with less than what you want and are open to being seen as “soft”
  • To as successful as you want to be . You must identify sponsors and willing partners for change–From the onset of HC and Financial Services Reform the Republicans  strategy was just say NO.
  • Time is not always on your side–it taks longer to make change happen than anyone usually thinks.
  • More assertiveness and transparency need to be display early and often not just at the end of a confusing and muddled process.
  • Process is important for forging partnerships and yet the end goals should not be over whelmed by the need to be seen as a nice guy or peace maker.
  • A leader’s criteria for change and reform can be dashed from serving as a framework for a strong Reform effort to an instrument of manipulation, stalling, fear and coercion by resisters to change and status quo advocates.
  • Don’t compromise with yourself ( single payer never on the table and public option never strongly endorsed or fought for) This type of compromise paints the administration into a corner with the outcome being a weaker law and hammering from your opponents. It ends up being a Lose for both the administration and the citizens and a win for you opponents.

What lessons would you add Mr. President? Where do we go from here? Please give us a vision and assertive leadership. You are the only one who can energize followers and mobilize us to keep pushing for the constructive action to save our Representative Democracy.

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