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Alan M. Webber
Editor/Entrepreneur

Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

Three Tasks for CEO Obama

Let's assume you're the president of a company -- or the United States. You've come to your job in the wake of a very difficult presidency. Your predecessor told the union (or the European Union) that their help wasn't needed to run the company (or the world). Your predecessor ran the company with a bit of a sneer, issuing policies that thoroughly alienated many people inside the company and indicating little concern for the opinions or ideas of others.

Now, early in your presidency, you are on your first visit to the union (or the European Union). What should you say? How should you conduct business? What tone should you strike?

Your first job is to start to undo the damage your predecessor did. The truth is, you can't run the company without the help of the union. Especially now that the company are in the ditch, in economic terms. You need their help to get things back on track -- and getting them to make sacrifices, to sign on to your program, to trust you, to work with you is a task made more difficult by the toxic relationship -- not to mention the toxic assets -- your predecessor left you.

So step number one: strike a new tone. Show that you get it -- that you know how insulted and alienated the union was by its previous treatment. Show that you can listen.

Your second job is to demonstrate that you are still the leader-in-chief. Yes, you do need their help; but they need you to be the leader. You're the only one big enough, strong enough, popular enough, powerful enough to do the hard work of leading. Step one and step two aren't mutually exclusive -- they simply require a deft touch, a mastery of both style and message. Yes, you want their help; yes, you're still the boss. But you're a good boss, not a bad boss, and that makes all the difference.

Your third job is to show through actions what kind of leadership you're prepared to assume: how your economic program will work, how it sets a new direction that your union can associate with, how your management philosophy for the company (and the world) is both idealistic and pragmatic. Ultimately actions will speak louder than words, so you need to combine a show of resolute action with a demonstration of your ability to put on a show -- again, not an either/or choice, but a both/and strategy.

And finally, when your first visit with the union is done, you want them and their people calling for more. After all, it's just the beginning of a longer conversation you'll need to have in good times and bad, and you want the first visit to go so well that everybody comes away thinking that working with you will be productive and progressive.

By Alan M. Webber

 |  April 9, 2009; 9:32 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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