Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama is already delivering losses

My favorite definition of leadership, the one I am really addicted to, is that leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb. One of Obama's most attractive traits is that he has the capacity to stand back and see what is happening while he is in the midst of the action. He appears to be able to reflect in real time, unlike many people in public life who are so caught up in their public personae that they find it difficult to reflect at all, never mind while the action is still going on. So he understands and has acknowledged that he will not, can not, meet the multiple and grandiose expectations that we have placed on him. The process of "disappointing his own people" has already begun. I was on the phone yesterday with a colleague from Dubai, a Palestinian who teaches in and runs executive programs at the Dubai School of Government. He said that the headlines in every newspaper in the Gulf were about the fact that the father of Rahm Emmanuel, Obama's While House chief-of-staff to be, is an Israeli citizen. So much, they were saying, for an evenhanded US Middle East policy. Right or wrong, and my guess is that they are wrong and that my worried Zionist friends have reason for concern, they were expressing their disappointment with Obama based on their expectations, whether or not Obama himself had colluded in their fantasies. This is just a taste of what is to come. There will be disappointments delivered in other staff appointments and Cabinet positions, people and factions who will be denied what they think is their due. And there will be policy disappointments as well, as events, both in the economy and internationally will interrupt the pre-election plans for the post-election period. But in both of these realms, the hyperbolic expectations also provide Obama an opportunity for leadership. Because people all over the world as well as his supporters in the US are so invested in his success, he will have a window to try some experiments in the first six months or year or so that would not be available to most politicians. For him, the challenge will be how to use that precious political capital he has accumulated, but will start to atrophy if he does not expend it. He will need to choose wisely, and never to assume that because he is President and that so many people want him to succeed, that anything really important will be easy. Clinton made both mistakes, choosing unwisely and then not doing the necessary work. Instead of taking a smart risk smartly, he took a stupid risk stupidly when he used his political capital, such as it was given that he was elected with less than 50% of the vote, on gays in the military, an important issue to be sure, but not one that should have tackled first when the nation was facing a need for deep change in health care, education and welfare. By making that his first big initiative, and losing it because he never did the hard work of laying the foundation for it, he blew the opportunity to make real progress on his next initiative, health care. Hope that Obama takes his early risks on something at the top of his priority list and that he does so knowing that no important change will be easy to effect.


Anonymous said...

Yes - first by reminding everyone at the press conference that he isn't president yet. And perhaps his choice of COS - an old Clinton hand - change? Last week in Washington, thousands of people signed a board set up near the Lincoln memorial.The messages showed how vast is the scale of expectation on this man, not seen in America I believe, even with Kennedy. And there is a deeper layer - After their huge endorsement, what losses will non-white America need and be prepared to sustain?

Franklincovey said...

I don’t get it, what do you mean by the 3rd paragraph?