Leadership Lessons from Barack Obama

What Business Leaders Can Learn from Obama’s Bad Week

Wow, what a week for the Leader of the Free World. Just as his something-for-nothing-health-care-plan was starting to lose steam on Capitol Hill, one of his friends breaks into his own home, gets lippy with a cop and gets arrested.

In his typical “you never want to let a serious crisis go to waste” fashion, Barack Obama took a page from previous US Presidents and tried to deflect criticism of his health plan with some presidential sleight of hand. Claiming a decorated police officer acted stupidly in arresting his pal Henry Louis Gates, Obama just might have uttered the dumbest thing he’s said since taking office. Thankfully, he’s provided us with a couple of truly basic lessons for business leaders in the process.

Leaders Make Sure Their Feet Are Clear of Their Mouths Before Speaking

“I don’t know all the facts.” Barack Obama stated as he began to weigh-in on Gatesgate during his nationally televised health care press conference on Wednesday.




Leaders know that this is where they should stop commenting. Leaders understand that it’s important to get all the facts before speaking – especially on topics that could be inflammatory.

“… the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” Obama continued later in his misinformed opinion “… there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”

Clearly, Obama has never seen an episode of Cops, where nearly everyone is arrested in their own homes. The most misguided takeaway of President Obama’s declaration on Gatesgate is that he equated this incident with the stereotypical racist white cop, and even tried to make what happened in Cambridge a microcosm of race relations in America.

You Move Too Quickly

If you’re wondering what that stuff is dripping off the President’s mug, it’s egg. It seems Obama not only spoke without knowing the facts – as the facts came out it became increasingly clear that we had a belligerent old man who was disrespectful of the very police who were called to his home to investigate a possible burglary – he basically called one of the most colorblind policemen in Massachusetts a racist. Boy, I bet he wishes he’d known that before he opened his mouth.

Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley, as you may already know, not only teaches academy plebes on how to avoid racial profiling, but he just happens to be the brave officer who performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Reggie Lewis in 1993. Lewis, you see, was black; and Crowley didn’t care as he tried to save the young man’s life.

The President should be calling for other police departments to hire more men like Crowley instead of continuing to second-guess the officer’s actions. Leaders, at this point, would know enough to apologize and explain they spoke too quickly. Even as recently as today, Obama has continued to lay much of the blame at Crowley’s feet. The American People – just as your subordinates would if you were lying to them – aren’t buying it.

What’s The Rush?

The real leadership lesson we expected to learn this week centered on the Obama Health Care Reform Plan. We were looking for the reason that the White House and certain members of congress seemed so adamant about passing the measure before the August break. The plan is one of the most costly pieces of legislation ever to be proposed, and would (by all accounts) change the way most of us access doctors and hospitals forever.

So what’s the rush? Leaders know that getting it right is always, always, always better than getting it fast. That’s not to say that leaders believe in ready, aim, aim, aim…. On the contrary, leaders are all about quick action – they just don’t take this action without understanding the pros, cons and consequences.

One thousand, one hundred and eighteen. That’s the number of pages in the Health Care Reform Bill Obama wants passed this month. With all that’s happening in the economy – and with the trillions already pledged to stimulating it – asking congress to okay a bill that would commit trillions more without expecting them to both read and understand it is unconscionable – and not very leader-like.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Obama and the congressional leadership should take a page from careful carpenters and make certain they understand the ramifications of all aspects of the bill before signing on. (It’s quite possible President Obama hasn’t even read the bill in its entirety.)

Obama, however, wants everyone in America (especially the congress) to look the other way and let his plan go into effect. Why, we ask? What’s the rush? If health care is so important to Barack Obama, shouldn’t we make sure we get it right the first time?

We’re not even talking about debating the merits of the plan the President has laid out – it could very well be perfect for America – we just want to know that if health care is so important to the President, why did it take him six months to name a Surgeon General? (And why does she seem so overweight and under-qualified?)

Therein lies the leadership lesson. Leaders’ actions speak louder than leaders’ words – and true leaders know this. That’s why true leaders would never try to shove something down their charges’ throats. Instead, true leaders provide the facts, gain consensus and mentor as their teams do the right things. We wish Obama would do the same.