Americans Love a Great Story
I recall a recent conversation I had while visiting my beloved second home, Managua, Nicaragua. At that time the Republican primaries were in full swing, and a couple of my friends were expressing their distaste for the field of candidates vying to oppose the incumbent. As we analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, our discourse naturally shifted to the president’s record. When asked to cite specific ways in which our president has performed poorly during his first term, I responded quickly with what I think is one obvious answer – executive leadership.
It certainly can’t be argued that Barack Obama has done ‘little’ during his first term as president, having signed far reaching reforms that overhaul the healthcare and finance worlds like never before. Political philosophy aside, the fault doesn’t lie in the quantity of accomplishments, but rather in the understanding and acceptance of those accomplishments by the American people.
My theory was confirmed in a recent interview in which President Obama lamented over what he felt didn’t go well during his first several years in office.
“When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well,” the president said, “the mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
This candid response makes perfect sense coming from the president, doesn’t it? Before taking the high office, President Obama was a rising star as a United States Senator from Illinois. We can recall from 8th grade civics that, as a legislator, his function was to create law. But wait a moment, didn’t he just say that he thought ‘this job [referring to the presidency] was just about getting the policy right’? Here in lies the risk of electing a legislator to an executive role.
“It’s funny – when I ran, everybody said, well he can give a good speech but can he actually manage the job?” he said. “And in my first two years, I think the notion was, ‘Well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?’ And I think that was a legitimate criticism.”
A very wise sage once advised me with the old adage, ‘communication saves lives’. That’s true.
If I were to offer advice to the president, I would suggest that he turn to those who have mastered the ‘organization.’ The private sector would quickly point out that President Obama has failed in the area of Organizational Change Management (OCM). This practice stems from the idea that even the most effective solutions within an organization can go to waste if not adopted by the users they were intended to benefit. Historically thought to fall into the less-necessary ‘touchy-feely’ realm of business, companies are now investing heavily in professionals to ensure projects of all different levels of impact have OCM components.
This is one method by which the president can take a step in the direction of functioning as the chief executive, and thus more effectively shape the future of the American story. But then of course, we could just elect an executive.