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When it comes to leadership, Barack Obama has earned an A

When it comes to leadership, Barack Obama has earned an A
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First Published: Sun, Apr 12 2009. 08 27 PM IST

Updated: Sun, Apr 12 2009. 08 27 PM IST
So, how’s Obama doing?”
This was a question our host posed at a small dinner party recently. In response, two people said they were disappointed, seven claimed to be on the fence, four asserted that it was too early to tell, and three said he’s doing great. Where were we in the mix? To answer, we’ve decided to issue a preliminary report card on US President Obama’s leadership since he took office.
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But first, note that we just used the word “leadership”. This is not about policy. If it were, we’d probably be in the “on the fence” category. We passionately oppose the President’s position on the Employee Free Choice Act, and we’re suspicious of his cap and trade proposal for the control of greenhouse gas emissions, a version of which has not done much for Europe.
We also find the new budget, with its overly optimistic forecasts and staggering short-term deficits, positively alarming. However, we’re generally positive about the administration’s reaction to the economic crisis. And we’re strongly supportive of the President’s foreign policy, which strikes us as sound and progressive.
But forget all that. Our grade for Obama is based on how he’s done to date on the critical performance dimensions as the US’ chief executive.
Let’s start with vision, the thing without which a person simply cannot lead. Whether you like his politics or not, Obama has obviously got it. Whether it concerns the economy or the environment,education or health care, the President has articulated his short- and long-term goals for the country.
Vision, though, is meaningless alone. To be an effective leader, you must communicate consistently, vividly, and so darn frequently that you start gagging on the words. As we’ve said, you can never communicate too much, especially when it comes to galvanizing change.
Who could possibly disagree that Obama is nailing this challenge, too? Every time he speaks, which is often, he’s thoughtful, expansive and candid. As important, he has worked assiduously to make himself heard outside Washington, appearing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, for instance, in order to reach constituents who are not the “usual suspects”.
Again, on some points we wish that Obama’s message was different, but when we heard his Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) press conference on 4 April—particularly his explanation of American exceptionalism—his lucidity and lack of arrogance rendered criticism moot. He will surely be the next US President known as The Great Communicator.
Now, onward to team building, another imperative of every successful leader. In this area, we started as sceptics regarding Obama’s abilities due to the potential for palace intrigue between top economic adviser Larry Summers and treasury secretary Tim Geithner, not to mention between White House staff and Hillary Clinton’s complex, high-calibre state department.
Early indications suggest we were overly concerned. The economic team seems to be working together seamlessly, egos kept in check, under embattled circumstances. And Clinton is positively refreshing in her new role, with the President clearly giving her the latitude to make a mark, (her recent remarks on US-Mexico relations were frank and long overdue). We also give the President points for his nomination of Arne Duncan, who, with his daring, outspoken support for merit pay and charter schools, appears to be a terrific choice for secretary of education.
Speed is another key leadership skill, and again, Obama can’t be faulted. In fact, a few weeks ago, we were worried that he was moving too quickly on too many fronts, diffusing the nation’s attention away from the economic crisis. But since then, the President appears to have tightened his focus. He has made great strides, for instance, with the aid of the auto industry task force, which took decisive action with GM.
And then there’s authenticity, the hallmark of every effective leader.
Well, thank goodness for his wife, Michelle. Not that the President himself isn’t “real”, it’s just that he remains somewhat cool in his affect. That’s fine. But people crave humanity in their leaders, and luckily for the President, his wife’s warmth and down-to-earth appeal more than makes up for his reserve.
Now, before we begin to sound irrationally exuberant, remember that the President has yet to be tested on two key traits: resilience and the wherewithal to champion unpopular causes.
Though it hasn’t yet been 90 days since the inauguration, that’s still plenty of time to get a sense of an executive’s performance. And while we’d surely like to see his skills applied to some different policies, when it comes to leadership, Barack Obama has undoubtedly earned an A.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
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First Published: Sun, Apr 12 2009. 08 27 PM IST