Tag Archives: obama

Leadership, Goodwill…Good Grief

As the steady drone of “budget crisis” and “federal government shutdown” continues to pound every sensory receptor, I find myself thinking of that great accounting term “goodwill”.  By nature I abhor the entire idea of politics, and to even slightly touch on the topic makes me feel, well dirty, but at the moment it is the topic de jour.  And as is often the case when things are not going “well”, a quick look at things reveals some classic, fundamental truths.

It was one of the more interesting parts of accounting, and that is saying something. It is easy to take a shot at accounting classes.  To my rather unsophisticated business mind during those early MBA years, the idea of goodwill made a great deal of sense.  If the customers, industry and society believe in the firm, the product, the service, the team, the leadership, etc., well that is worth something.  Name brand, product recognition, the benefit of the doubt, whatever it might be, it all falls under that umbrella of “goodwill”.  It all has value and it is quantified, listed and quite literally accounted for on an annual basis.  It was one of those things I knew intuitively, but to see it recognized and quantified, well that lesson stuck with me.

The concept of goodwill became one of those things that was never far from the surface.  When in a direct leadership role, maintaining the goodwill of the team was always important.  Caring about your people, helping them advance their careers, find work-life balance, grow professionally and personally, they were all deposits in the “goodwill account”.  When times were tough, when the team needed to really dig deep, we had that “goodwill account” to draw upon.  Same concept has applied to business in general – treat the clients well, go the extra mile, under promise over deliver, treat vendors and competitors well, and just generally do the right thing…it has paid dividends.

Good governance.  Good leadership.  Goodwill.  It all goes hand-in-hand yet no one in our collective “ruling elite” seems to get it.  The very idea that a business would act in its own self-interest with complete disregard for its customers, stakeholders, suppliers and shareholders is absurd.  Every successful business realizes the value of goodwill.  They have to list it and quantify it in their Annual Reports.  It might be wise for “our leaders”, regardless of party, branch, or level, to take a moment and think about the idea of goodwill.  Dare I say it would change their behavior…maybe.

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President Obama and Job Matching

As recruiters, consultants and coaches, it is often our role to help people and organizations come to terms with what it is a job, or job title, really means.  What the role entails, what behaviors one will engage in day-to-day, what is expected of the role, and of the person in that role.  We are in the Job Matching business – connecting the right people to the right job.

It has been interesting over the years to watch people who are in very public, high-profile roles – a lot of their issues are the same as what we all see and experience in our “normal lives”.  Arguably there is no one who has had more coverage the last 5-6 years than Barak Obama.  And based on that coverage, it seems there is a disconnect in President Obama’s passions, and the man’s actual job.  It is not a question of policy or politics, guiding principles or the role of government. Rather, it is about the actual “job of Chief Executive” that President Obama the man now holds.  Thus the question, is Barack Obama as President a case of good Job Matching?

First, let us consider the definition of the “job” of President.   By definition, a president is “the highest executive officer of a modern republic, the Chief Executive of the United States”.  Going a step further, what is a Chief Executive?  Typically, the Chief Executive, or more commonly the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) per wiki, “has responsibilities as a communicator, decision maker, leader, and manager. The communicator role can involve the press and the rest of the outside world, as well as the organization’s management and employees; the decision-making role involves high-level decisions about policy and strategy. As a leader, the CEO advises the board of directors, motivates employees, and drives change within the organization. As a manager, the CEO presides over the organization’s day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to year operations.”

Think about two earlier and well covered two-term Presidents, Clinton and Reagan.  Clearly they loved the job of being President.  Not just for the ego boost and cache, but more importantly for what the job entailed.  They were both literally “chief executives”.  They had run organizations and lead teams throughout their lives.  They were organizational leaders and governors. They literally grew up with a passion to lead people and run organizations.  They thrived on the give and take, the relationships, the challenges and the sheer day-to-day operations management.  It defined them.  You could see it in their history, and you could see it in their behavior while in office – they loved the job.

When one looks at the history, experience, and even the behaviors of President Obama, that passion for the job of a chief executive just does not seem to be there.  Now the office, the trappings, the pulpit and stage; clearly he loves it.  I am quite confident both Reagan and Clinton did as well.  However, the sheer day-to-day operations management, the constant leadership challenges, all of the relationships, constituencies, competing issues and demands, the never-ending string of mundane, gut wrenching, and extremely difficult decisions one must make – it just does not appear to be what he loves.

If I were invited to the Rose Garden for a beer, I would ask President Obama the man what it is he loves.  What is it he is passionate about?  What fires him?  Above all else, I would ask him what it is he loves to do every day – not by title but by behavior.  I will go out on a limb and bet that his answer does not involve the day-to-day behaviors demanded of a chief executive.

There in lies the issue – you have to love what the job entails, not what the job is titled.  And in the interest of being helpful, might I be so bold as to propose a solution…Statesman.  There is no question President Obama the man loves to strategize, plan, talk through things, noodle on problems, and above all propose great ideas, visions, and goals.  That is the role of a true Statesman – be above the fray, propose bold ideas, have great, sweeping vision and share that vision.  Now that job, the day-to-day behaviors of being a Statesman seem to really fit Barak Obama the person – it captures his passion, his history, and frankly what he was clearly great at.  Look at his campaign – he was in his element; he thrived and was wildly successful; he love that job.

Regardless of the job, its level or scope, it all comes down to Job Matching.  Does the demands of the job match the passions and talents of the person.  Think about it when you are hiring, and even when you are interviewing.  When hiring, you owe it to the interviewees and the organization to really determine what the job is, and if the job is right for the candidates.  And when interviewing, strip away the titles, the corner office, the compensation, the cache and ask the simple but very hard question – what is it the job demands on a day-to-day basis?  What really has to be done by behavior, day in and day out?  Sometimes the job you have, and maybe even the job you thought you wanted, is not really the right job for you.

If President Obama ever does call me for a beer in the Rose Garden, or anywhere, I would jump at the invitation.  Until then, call it a pro bono consultation.  Mr. President, it might be worth considering the idea of making the decision to change jobs next year.  You seem to be much more of a Statesman than a Chief Executive.  In the end sir, you have to make the call – not your advisors, and not the public.  Only you know what really is right for you.  It is the same for all of us…just not as public.

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The Dog That Caught Car

Being the outsider, the opposition, the one with the better idea is always easy. The good idea fairy. The one with the great sound bite, the novel approach, the wisdom that can only come from not being the one in charge.  We have seen it all too often in business, the team member who just always knows the right answer…always.  The sports team where the owner, the players, the fans – they all know better than the current coach.  And of course, in politics, entertainment, and just in life in general.

Muslim Brotherhood, GOP or Nancy Pelosi. Ask any of them – it is easy to declare how incompetent and misguided the current leadership is; how terribly wrong things have gone. However, when the pendulum swings, which it always does, the reality of how hard it is sets in…leading is much harder than it looks.

Being the font of “good ideas” and a “better course” are easy roles to take on, and roles in which you will always look good and be loved. Quite literally you can say whatever it is people want to hear. But be warned – someday circumstances will change; the opposition becomes the leader.  It is then that everything gets much harder.

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Chicago 2016 – Reinforcing the Fundamentals

The announcement of Chicago, and really the United States, early exit from the 2016 Summer Olympic voting offers at least two immediate lessons. Both are timeless lessons in life and business. Fundamentals that seem to trip-up even the most veteran, experienced professionals. Simply put – know your audience and minimize your personal downside.

Clearly I am no expert when it comes to the International Olympic Committee, its members, its mode of operation, or its inner workings and decision making.  Nor am I professing to understand to any significant degree all that goes into bidding for and/or hosting an Olympic Games.  However, what I am very sure of is that there are lessons to be learned for all of us, especially when they are fundamental issues that have just been played out on a very public stage.

Knowing your target market is critical in business and in life.  Every sales presentation, product or service that is designed or marketed, every interview, every interaction is aimed at or positioned towards someone.  It is absolutely critical that the presentation be directed to the decision maker.  One must know who your target market or audience is, what their concerns are, what factors might play into their decision making.  Being sensitive to their paradigm is absolutely critical.  Simply stated, it is about them, not about you.

A great deal was made of the “Chicago delegation” that went to Copenhagen, with special attention given to the presence of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.  A country’s First Lady – makes perfect sense, she is an individual of consequence on the international stage.  There is great significance in her participation – it demonstrates national level commitment to the ultimate IOC decision makers.  Oprah Winfrey is clearly a powerful presence in American popular culture, of that there is no question.  However – does she impact these particular decision makers?  Is she tied to the Olympic movement, is she an Olympian, a member of their community, a person who holds sway within their world?  Doubtful at best.  To an American audience she matters, but the ultimate decision makers were not an American audience.

It is critical to remember that whenever any of us are debating a decision that involves spending our personal or professional capital, there is potential downside that must be considered.  There is risk in every decision, and taking risks is a necessary part of life and business.  Knowing and honestly evaluating the downside is crucial, arguably of greater importance than evaluating the upside potential.  Managing and minimizing your risk when spending your personal and professional capital is paramount.

Obviously it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that the presence and personal pitch of the President to the IOC was not a winning move.  Whether he should have gone to Copenhagen is open to debate and will be critiqued to exhaustion.  Was there upside to the President’s involvement – absolutely.  Was there downside – clearly.  Was there more risk than originally considered – only time will tell. Losing now and again is part of life, part of business – everyone knows and accepts it.  Setting yourself up for big, public, resounding, crushing defeats – never wise.

Though there will never be one simple, all encompassing answer to why the Chicago bid was rejected – was it just Rio’s time, was it a poor sales presentation, was it geographic voting blocks, was it anti-American backlash, IOC bribery issues ala Salt Lake City, or was it W’s fault still – no one will ever know, and in the end it really does not matter.  What is clear is that it is always about the fundamentals.  Life and business are always about the fundamentals. Know your audience and minimize risk.

Never ask the question unless you already know the answer goes the old adage.  The same goes for spending your own political, personal, or professional capital – you better be very sure of what the outcome will be before you throw that blue chip on the table.  Take risks – absolutely.  Calculated risks are even better.  But betting big when you have massive downside exposure is foolish.  In a sales presentation, in an interview, with whatever your product or service might be, whatever relationship scenario you can imagine, it is always about them, not about you.  Ask any Olympian – it is all about the fundamentals.

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