Barack Obama – Enlightened Leader?

Leadership Lessons from the President-Elect

As someone who voted for John McCain, I have to admit that (so far) I’m impressed by one of the leadership moves proposed by President-elect Barack Obama. It looks like Obama may build his Cabinet with those who often disagree with him.

Throughout the campaign, Obama seemed like someone who would say and do anything to be President. (In this respect, he was not so unlike McCain.) Obama, it seemed, just wanted to be President so bad that he actually made me nervous.

In fact, the AskTheManager.com editors were so confused by his windblown opinions during the campaign that we ranked him third behind McCain and Sarah Palin in ability to lead. This latest move to embrace his rivals will surely vault him ahead of Palin. (To see the original rankings, follow this link.)

Though I will never agree with Obama’s socialist leanings – and I believe his proposed economic policies could potentially destroy the very things that made this country great – his apparent willingness to embrace adversaries in an effort to staff his Cabinet with the very best is impressive.

What Business Leaders Can Learn From Obama

Just elected CEO of the World, Barack Obama could take the path that many Fortune 500 leaders have taken. He could surround himself with his friends, reward his loyal and faithful followers, and staff his team with a plethora of yes-men and yes-women.

For the moment, it appears Obama will take a page directly from the greatest Republican President (and second greatest Leadership-President) of all time. Obama has hinted that he will follow Abraham Lincoln’s lead and choose the most qualified – not necessarily the most loyal – to fill his Cabinet posts. (To see our rankings of US Presidents as leaders, follow this link.)

Presidents and business leaders generally claim they want to surround themselves with strong-willed people possessing the courage to disagree with them – seldom do they follow through with this position. A great example is provided by the worst President of all time, Richard Nixon.




Though he claimed he hated yes-men, no one dared tell Nixon “no.” Because his Cabinet was filled with neutered-nothings, his merry band of sycophants stood idly by while his presidency imploded.

Secretary of State Hillary?

Obama, hinting to appointments for Hillary Clinton, Republicans, and others who have disagreed with him, might actually be serious. If he is, he will be in rare company.

Lincoln appointed political enemies to important posts, including one who went so far as to describe Lincoln as a “long-armed ape.” Tough words in 1860.

If Obama follows Lincoln’s lead and appoints those he feels are most qualified to hold significant posts, and if he encourages them to disagree with him on important issues, he may very well set an example that all CEOs should follow. (Call me naïve, but I believe Lincoln’s leadership style could have saved virtually all of the companies declaring bankruptcy this year.)

Every leader needs people around them to tell them when they have no clothes. True leaders forget their egos and reward subordinates who have dissenting viewpoints – we’re hopeful that’s why they hired them in the first place.

Time will tell if Obama has skin thick enough to want the truth from his Cabinet, though I like what I see so far.

In Leadership, Obama Bats .500

It couldn’t all be good news, could it?

While I’m certainly impressed by what everyone thinks Obama may do with his Cabinet, I’m somewhat less impressed by the leadership lesson he provides in abandoning his Senate seat tomorrow.

If challenged, Obama’s people would surely claim that the President-elect needs to prepare for his first term, and that the Senate will be fine without him.

Really?

Doesn’t the lame duck Congress need to tackle the greatest economic crisis the US has seen in more than 70 years? Isn’t this the precise reason the people of Illinois elected him to serve? At a time when the country is devoid of leadership, Barack Obama provides a terrible lesson to the nation’s leaders: when the going gets tough, some people quit.

Winners Never Quit and…

While it’s true that Senator Barack Obama will be replaced in the US Senate, his replacement most likely won’t take office until after Christmas; and he/she most certainly won’t take office next week when the Senate meets to discuss the economic bailouts.

Is it possible Obama doesn’t really want to bail out the auto industry and he’s afraid of angering his union base? Who knows – all I know is that he is quitting early and leaving the decision on who will be the next US Senator from Illinois in the hands of a scandal-ridden Governor with a 13% approval rating.

Lest you argue that Governor Blagojevich would appoint the next Illinois Senator no matter what; wouldn’t it make more sense for Obama to wait until January 19, help the country through the current crisis, and hope the Governor resigns or is impeached between now and then? (I can dream.)

No matter how you slice it, quitting early does not sound like leadership to me. Let’s hope Obama has a really good reason for walking away in the middle of this crisis.