Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taking Charge and the First 100 Days

When placed in command – take charge.
-- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

In the last several posts we have been examining what it means to take charge, to take command, to assume the role of a leader. Now on the President's 100th day in office, perhaps we can look at how effectively he has assumed his new position. None of this will consider the politics of the person or his decisions. Please, please – do not interpret anything I highlight here as either support for or against the politics of the President. In fact, if I am successful, you won’t know which way I lean! Rather, let’s use this forum to highlight how President Barrack Obama measures up in terms of leadership in the first 100 days and whether he has effectively taken command according to the main elements that we have discussed in this series of posts.

-- Leaders take command prior to taking command. President Obama certainly did his homework. He engaged in listening tours across the country to identify issues important to the voters. He is a quick study and he leveraged his time during the campaign and the transition into office ensuring that he was ready to assume his job at full stride.

-- Leaders follow the Jim Collins (Good to Great) philosophy of “First Who.” Despite the President’s efforts, he would likely admit to a mixed record here. Many of his selections were not adequately evaluated before nomination. Several key positions remain unfilled and have hamstrung his early actions (i.e. lack of Treasury appointees during this financial crisis and unfilled Health and Human Services positions during this influenza outbreak). Nothing matters more in the initial stages of command than evaluating one’s team and putting the right people in the right seat of the “full speed ahead” bus.

-- Leaders lead through the budget. President Obama has left no question about who is in charge with regard to the budget. He has put his mark on every element of the finances of the nation through both the stimulus and his first budget for Fiscal Year 2010. He is including those elements that he thinks important as areas of investment and is de-emphasizing those with which he disagrees.

-- Leaders develop and communicate big ideas and a strategic vision. President Obama has stayed on message from Day 1. He communicates with regularity and discipline about those things that he has identified as important, especially regarding his top priority – the economy. He has promoted big ideas for health care, energy independence, and foreign relations. He is pushing hard, thinking big, and delivering a consistent message at every opportunity.

-- Leaders make decisions, build trust, and get early wins. Leaders must understand this critical sequence. They know that they are ultimately on the blame line. They make decisions. The buck stops with them. Effective decision making comes from the two-way street of trust. And trust is enabled early from early wins, early decisions that demonstrate credibility, competence, and confidence in one other. President Obama has jumped right into the decision making arena. He has offered up the stimulus bill, proposed his first budget, begun a transition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and signed several executive rules. With some good fortune and some well trained Navy Seals, he won his first tactical engagement with some bonehead pirates off the coast of Somalia. And while most of his early decisions won’t play out for months or even years, he has certainly been confident in his decision making, has owned up to his failures, and has been favored by some good early luck! And if early polls are an indication, the American sentiment clearly favors his early moves.

-- Leaders own the ship from Day 1. Far be it from me to offer up advice to the Commander in Chief! But this is another area in which the record suggests an alternate approach. Taking command means no blaming predecessors, no excuses. Doing so can be a very slippery slope. The most credible position is to step up and own the ship. It’s not about who caused the problems but who will fix them!

-- Leaders keep balance. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. The jury is still out on whether the President can sustain his current pace. It remains to be seen how much change the system can handle. It is still unknown how much the decisions of today will cost tomorrow. World-wide travel, constant campaigning, regular press conferences are difficult to sustain. The good news -- the man is still exercising, finds time to be with his family, and maintains a good sense of humor. Each will be required to help keep up the pace he has set so far.

It is a well known fact of leadership that the higher we climb up the ladder of success, the more we show our butts! “Take charge” leaders’ actions will be examined under a microscope – from the beginning. That certainly has been the case for the President. In fact, there is likely no bigger a microscope than the one under which he has been since the day he assumed command. Has he taken charge? Well, you can judge for yourself. An unbiased, non-political read of the situation certainly suggests that he is an effective leader (or at least a devoted adherent of the Leader Business principles on “Taking Charge!”).

More importantly, for those of us in leadership positions, we should all ask if we have effectively assumed command. If we’re in charge…we should be in charge! Our troops are counting on us. Taking charge is…Leader Business!

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