1. Be Cool! Mr Obama focused on his goal and ignored distractions. He corrected problems without blaming people. He could adjust to the needs of the moment, play hardball only when necessary and lead without losing his humility.
2. Be Social! ......................
3. Be the Change!
Manage like Obama
Feb 10th 2009
What can chief executives learn from the new commander-in-chief?
BARACK OBAMA’S proposed $500,000 salary cap for executives is unlikely to win the president many friends in America’s C-suites—even though the cap would apply only to firms rescued by the government and, on closer inspection, the details suggest more bark than bite. But this is no time to ignore winning ideas, and as one of the few big winners of the past 12 months, Mr Obama has plenty.
Some of them might even appeal to those very same executives whose pay he wants to cut, say Barry Libert and Rick Faulk, authors of “Barack, Inc: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign”. Over the past couple of decades politicians have been urged to learn from business; now, the authors say, the tide has turned. They ask: “What if it turns out that business has more to learn from politics than the other way around? What if Mr Obama’s extraordinary campaign was a feat of managing ideas, people and technology on a scale so massive and demanding that historians rank it as a sort of Manhattan Project of presidential politics?”
The authors draw three main lessons from Mr Obama’s leadership of his campaign. First, “Be cool”. This turns out to be about temperament rather than fashion sense. Mr Obama focused on his goal and ignored distractions. He corrected problems without blaming people. He could adjust to the needs of the moment, play hardball only when necessary and lead without losing his humility. He has retained this quality even after his campaign, admitting he “screwed up” after two of his cabinet nominees had to withdraw over non-payment of taxes.
Second, “Be social”. This is a particular favourite of the authors, who are respectively chairman and chief executive of Mzinga, a social-software company. It is widely agreed that unleashing social technologies—blogs, discussion boards, viral videos, texting and mobile-phone networks—gave the Obama campaign a crucial edge in both the primary and the general elections.
Among other things, it allowed the campaign to motivate an army of volunteers, and rapidly rebut criticism. The authors reckon that “companies do themselves an extreme disservice if they forgo the benefits of all these social technologies—for instance, more customers, lower costs, additional leads, higher efficiency, and greater profits.” This idea is already catching on, as The Economist reported in a recent article about Virgance, a San Francisco start-up that wants to make a profit through political activism.
Third, “Be the change”. Just as Mr Obama’s campaign relied on promising radical change, if business leaders—especially in today’s tough economy—“have not yet answered or even recognized the need for drastic action, they need to make way for others.” This is hard to quibble with, though some readers may find it a bit of a stretch for the authors to contrast Mr Obama’s repudiation of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright with the “plethora of fugitives from reality, the leaders of such troubled organisations as AIG, Citigroup, ImClone, Lehman Brothers, Tyco and United Way”.
Messrs Libert and Faulk are wise to rush their book into print now, before the difficulties of office take the shine off Mr Obama’s campaigning brilliance. Eight years ago, even the New York Times Magazine was willing to find positive management lessons in a new White House incumbent. An article on “The Bush Years: C.E.O., USA” lauded the former president for saying that “good management—like his selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate—makes good politics. As Bush has introduced his proposed cabinet, he has given the nation a rolling seminar on management, sounding at times as though he were reading from a primer for aspiring child executives.”
The article quotes the then-new president dispensing management tips that surely even Mr Obama would agree with. “A good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate,” for instance. “How to align authority and responsibility, how to hold people accountable for results and how to build a team of people. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. This is a team of people who’ll be dedicated to doing what is right for America.” As the author of the article comments, “Who but the most unpatriotic shareholder could argue with that?”
Within a few years, however, Mr Bush had inspired several management books all about what not to do. These include “Would You Choose George W. Bush As Your CEO?”, which “shows how the same traits that have led companies like Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossings, Adelphia and others to defraud shareholders and stumble, could profoundly affect our nation’s security and prosperity”. Fingers crossed that we won’t soon be reading “Screw Up Your Business the Obama Way”.