Thursday, December 22, 2011

President Obama's Leadership Grade

The Republican attack machine has so little to go after President Obama with, they are using the trumped up allegation and charge that he has failed as a leader.  Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and all of the GOP Presidential hopefuls lead the charge claiming the President has demonstrated no leadership in dealing with the economy, Iran, China, and a whole slew of other topics.  Granted, most of this is simply political posturing and grandstanding, but it begs the question: “What makes a good leader?”
When we hear leader we typically rattle of heads of state, businessmen, sports coaches and stars, and military men.  You know who I am talking about: General George Patton, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Vince Lombardi, etc.   But what makes them good leaders?  I have studied leadership traits and theories and I tend to assess the relative strengths of leaders using the criteria established by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in their landmark book: The Leadership Challenge.  Derived from years of research and thousands of interviews and analysis, the authors distilled their findings into five key leadership traits:
1.       Inspire a Shared Vision
2.       Challenge The Process
3.       Model The Way
4.       Encourage the Heart
5.       Enable Others to Act

Here is a fair and balanced assessment of President Obama based on this criteria.

Inspire a Shared Vision: Inspiring a shared vision takes more than flowing speeches and soaring rhetoric.  It is also not to be confused with demagoguery such as the cases of Hitler or Mussolini.  Inspiring a shared vision involves getting intellectual and emotional buy-in from one’s followers.  FDR’s address to the nation after the Pearl Harbor attack is a classic example of inspiring an entire nation to sacrifice and support the war effort in any number of ways or means.  But what of President Obama?  Clearly, Candidate Obama was able to inspire the young to mobilize on his behalf and the moderates to vote for him based on his vision of transparency and no more business as usual in DC.  But President Obama has struggled here at times as it is difficult at times to put a hand on what he truly believes and unlike FDR he has been unable to inspire the people during difficult times.  His landmark legislative achievement, Healthcare Reform remains only tepidly popular.  I give him a B- here.
Challenge The Process is about rejecting the status quo.  It is about not accepting the old paradigms of how things need to be and it often requires flying into the headwinds of general beliefs and popular opinions.  Harry Truman ordered the Armed Forces to desegregate a decade before the Civil Rights Act was approved.  Similarly Mr. Obama has reversed this nation’s course on DADT by signing its repeal and he has vowed not to enforce DOMA.  While he has struggled to inspire citizens with respect to Healthcare Reform he has accomplished something that all of his predecessors failed to do.  Further, his doctrine of building international consensus and collaboration is a major shift in U.S. policy of unilateral action; which in the long run will benefit the U.S. financially and diplomatically.  On the downside, we are still facing the same old mess in Washington of partisan politics, opaque transparency, and special interests domination.  I give him a B.
Model the Way is about setting a high standard of performance honesty, and ethics that others will see as the gold standard and yearn to achieve.  It is simply walking the walk and talking the talk.  Now many will point at The President’s smoking habit as setting a poor example and hardly the stuff of modeling the way.  However the real evidence lies in the administration itself and how it acts.  After nearly three years, this administration’s biggest failures have involved the Solyndra and Operation Fast and Furious debacles.  In comparison to the previous administration, not the greatest example of executive performance, this administration is nearly perfect.  No terrorist attack, Iraq war fiasco, Katrina debacle, and financial meltdown.  Thousands of lives and trillions of dollars makes Solyndra and Operation Fast and Furious look like boogers.  Further, this administration has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to any degree of impropriety, all of which results in an A- grade
Encouraging the heart embodies making others feel important about what they do by creating a sense of optimism.  This is not about cheerleading, but getting others to go above and beyond the call of duty.  The downside of No Drama Obama is he can be too cool.  No doubt, he has some folks in his administration that would run through a wall for him. But I don’t get the sense that President Obama can encourage like candidate Obama in 2007.  That being said, I think he has encouraged people around the globe to seek a better life and that his refusal to back Egypt’s Mubarak sent the message that America stands with liberty and freedom seekers.  I give President Obama a B.
Finally, enabling others to act is not just delegating, but providing the necessary physical and emotional support for them to succeed.  Next to encouraging the heart, enabling others to act is often overlooked as a leadership trait because it requires the leader to check his ego and let others take the lead.  The best example of this can be found in President Obama’s handling of the Libya crisis.  The U.S. led the creation of the coalition and the endorsement from the U.N leading up to hostilities.  Once the kinetic phase kicked in, it was the U.S. providing necessary logistical and technology support for NATO and the Arab League.  This represents a new chapter in U.S. history: going it alone can be lonely, but getting others to act is priceless.  To this I give the President an A-.
The composite leadership grade for President Obama is a B+.  How does that stack up to other Presidents using the same criteria?  Here are a few other scores:
George W. Bush: C-
Bill Clinton: B
George H.W. Bush: C+
Ronald Reagan: A-
Jimmy Carter: C
Richard Nixon: B-
Harry Truman: B

So with all due respect, none, to the Obama haters, you’re wrong.

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