The Wrong Pace
In President Obama's press conference on health care last week, he was asked, "Why the rush?" He cited two reasons: first, the letters he gets "every day from families being clobbered by health care costs." Second, he said, "if you don't set deadlines in this town, things won't happen." As one of the central issues in his campaign and presidency, from a political perspective, Obama has to take on health care, especially given his belief that it is an essential piece in restoring the nation's competitiveness.
Still, I would counsel him to exercise more patience. Obama could win support by educating others about his proposals. At the same time, he could strengthen his coalition by taking more recommendations and comments from the many constituencies involved. Surveys show that the majority of Americans believe the health system needs reform to slow costs and insure individuals who can't afford health care or insurance plans. But it's not a republican or democratic problem. Health care touches every American, so a measured approach to solving its problems that engages all stakeholders across partisan divides is key.
"Measured haste," you might call it. Consider, on a vastly smaller scale, an issue that I have been dealing with over the last several years. This is to create a new university for our employees near Dallas Fort Worth. The university idea began with strong support, but like health care, it was easy until people saw the plans and estimated price tag.
Similarly, the plan involved many constituencies, beginning with the nearly 3,000 partners who own and run my organization. Once the reality of the great recession took hold, there were plenty of voices saying: "Why not wait until the economy turns?" Not unlike the President, I thought that it couldn't wait, that ideas have their time--and that time is now.
Instead, I have taken the time to transparently explain and socialize the idea through meetings, calls, webcasts, governance processes, and Town Hall updates I have been holding to keep employees informed during the downturn. In short, the idea required that mixture of patience and urgency that, to me, is the very essence of leadership.
My advice to the president would be to find that balance of urgency and patience. Too fast and constituencies do not feel consulted or, worse, feel railroaded and dig in their heels. Too slow and you miss an opportunity to transform the nation on a very important issue.
The president needs to have more public discourse regarding the true benefits of the proposal, matched by a campaign of public education on the appropriate details. Take the time. Include, inform and explain and, more often than not, people will follow.
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