Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obama and 7 Obstacles to Effective Leadership

I'm in a leadership role in my day job and because of this have read several articles on how to be an effective leader; but the most helpful one I found was on what makes you a bad leader.  I've taken the steps from an article by Duncan Brodie on "7 Obstacles to Effective Leadership" and looked at how Obama is fairing.

For my Obama supporters I will admit that Bush wouldn't have faired all that well in this comparison either.

Obstacle 1: Old mindsets
This might not be the thing that you would automatically expect to see at the top of the list. Truth is that when we become a leader it is easy to forget that there are different expectations and challenges. If as a new leader you are still in the manager mindset you are going to struggle. Even if you are not a new leader old mindsets and complacency can be an obstacle.

For Obama this can go either way.  People can claim that he's brought new ideas, but I disagree.  What Obama brought with him is the Saul Alinski playbook and his Community Organization processes.  He has brought his old mindset into this leadership job and he's unwilling to let it go.  He will run his play book the way he has it written and he's not going to change even if the plays are causing him to lose the game.

Obstacle 2: Personal rather than corporate agenda
Ever noticed how someone's leadership career evolves. At the start they are a breath of fresh air, full of new ideas and enthusiasm, after a while, especially if the going gets tough, they start to focus on their own survival rather than on delivering success. Be alert to becoming too focussed on your personal agenda.

Hello!  Forcing his plans for climate change legislation and universal health in an economy that is already struggling.  In this case the coroporate agenda should be job creation, but his personal agenda - which will stymie job growth -- is taking center stage.  He needs to put his personal agenda aside and work on what's best for the nation as a whole.  Which means expanding job creation beyond infrastructure and green jobs.

Obstacle 3: Vagueness about direction
As the leader people will look to you to provide clear direction. After all unless you have a clear direction in which you want to take the organisation or team forward in, how are you going to communicate it and get the support you need.

Gee, I really don't know about this one.  He's communicated his specific plan on all of the issues so clearly hasn't he?

Obstacle 4: Micromanaging everything
One of the areas that differentiates the best from the poorer leaders is their ability to let go of things. When a leader spends all of their time micromanaging everything they get lost in the detail of the day to day stuff and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Hmm, a weekend visit to the Senate to push his agenda springs to mind.

Obstacle 5: Failure to act
We have all probably encountered this situation at some point in our career. The organisation is facing some struggles, needs to make some decisions and most importantly act on them. Yes it takes courage but failure to act is a recipe for disaster in the long term.

Dithering about Afghanistan for 3 months, finally addressing jobs after 10 months.  Of course you could say he acted quickly with the stimulus, but you could also say he didn't considering that the vast majority of the money hasn't been spent yet. 

Obstacle 6: Having to be right
Of course it is great to be the person who comes up with the ideas, turnaround or transformation plan or initiative. On the other hand when this becomes essential to you as the leader you stop listening, taking ideas on board and potentially miss out on real opportunities.

I'm going to let an evil witch cackle serve as my response to this one.

Obstacle 7: Failing to adapt
Every situation requires a different response. Failing to adapt leads to a situation where you become stuck. In the worst case scenarios this failure to adapt can result in a whole organisation collapsing. Always be ready to adapt to new and changing circumstances.

The public support for health care is dropping in the face of the unemployment rate and the way the bill is shaping up, but instead of adapting to this change he is willing to lose Congressional seats in order to acheive his personal goal (see obstacle 2).

Bottom Line - Obstacles are an inevitable part of leading. The question is are you going to successfully deal with them and deliver great results?

So how do you think Barack Obama is doing in dealing with these obstacles.  I'd love your opinion.

1 comment:

  1. I think the bottom line is that Obama has never had any obstacles to overcome: he has always been the shining example, has had all impediments to his ascent removed by others, and only now is he facing adversity for the first time.

    And he does not know how to respond to it, other than what has always worked for him in the past, revert to 'The Chicago Way:' remove obstacles and destroy the characters of people who disagree with him.