Billi Lee's Savvy Blog

Obama Leadership Lessons

Posted in career advice, Leadership, Uncategorized, Workplace Savvy by billilee on February 9, 2010

How’s Obama doing?

Regardless of your politics, I think most of us would agree something has slipped. He can still make an inspiring speech, look great in a suit, charm with a warm smile and dazzle some crowds, but something’s gone missing this first year.

Now if you’d love to see him fail, you are excited by the prospect that his leadership may prove less than stellar; and if you eagerly voted for him you might be anxiously rooting from the sidelines. But whatever your personal political stance, there are some lessons we can all consider from this first year that may apply to our own leadership challenges.

Be careful of the pedestal
Certainly he sought out the spotlight, even the pedestal, as he ran for the big prize. This is required of politicians. But after the increasingly short Washington honeymoon, opponents can’t wait to uncover the clay feet of even the biggest winners and supporters are waiting for the promises to be fulfilled. Pedestals must be replaced with boots on the ground, respect-winning results.

You may have earned a spot on the pedestal and may have even been thrust up there by your last big achievement or promotion. Don’t linger! Climb on down. Get back in touch with the people who helped you get up there is in the first place. Reconnect. Re-engage.

Take Charge
Leaders need to be seen leading! Certainly there will be many behind closed door strategy sessions and maneuverings not for public consumption, but aloof, and remote and seemingly distanced from the game does not inspire confidence in supporters.
It might have made sense on some levels to have Congress duke out the health care battles so then Obama could declare he had the support of legislators. But it backfired. He made the big announcement and then seemed to retire from the field. This was going to be his big achievement, something 9 other Presidents couldn’t do; and he wasn’t seen leading the charge.
If you declare that you will get something done publically, be seen out front as the crusader. Stand up. Fight. Make deals behind closed doors, but don’t stay there. Big initiatives need very visible leaders.

Pundits applauded the Obama campaign’s brilliant connection to the youth vote and the innovative use of social media. I was impressed to see how timely those electronic hugs were. Right after any major event, supporters heard from the campaign. It made many of them feel involved, important and necessary. A few weeks after the inaugurations, the electronic hugs and rallying cries turned into basic fund raising messages. Hard to feel emotionally connected to that! Why isn’t his administration using electronic communication brilliantly now? Has he forgotten who brought him to the dance?

Just last night I watched a new reality show called “Undercover Boss,” where the President of a major organization goes undercover and performs entry level jobs in various parts of his empire. Of course he discovered how removed he was from the reality his people face in the trenches and came to understand how many of his executive decisions that made so much sense in his ivory tower proved to be a disaster on the ground. After he was revealed, many people in his company just couldn’t believe that he would come down “so low” to actually do their jobs. He earned tremendous respect and loyalty along with valuable leadership lessons. A wonderful show. I hope you will watch it.
To lead effectively you need to know your supporters. They want to be led, but also they want to be heard, seen and valued. Connect, connect, connect!

It is so easy to critic someone else’s leadership abilities, isn’t it?
The important part for us is to critic and then analyze; digest and then
adopt; recognize and the toss out.

Obama has at least a few years to perfect his game. How wonderful we get to watch him and so many other public figures get it right and get it wrong. Leadership lessons for us on a daily basis, if we just take the time to pay attention.