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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Finding the Right Sticks

For President Obama to be successful, he must have carrots and sticks at his disposal in both foreign and domestic matters. The carrots are the easy part. But applying the sticks takes moral clarity and confidence. And how those sticks are applied is important.

Leadership by fear has an ability to motivate people in the short term, but it has long-term dire consequences. It leads to staff burnout, and a climate where decisions are rarely challenged because of a fear of speaking out. This lack of freedom to question superiors can lead to the formation of bad policy, or quick decision-making with poor results.

Visionary leadership that encourages and motivates is much more powerful, especially when tied to practical results and tangible benefits for citizens. This type of leadership is what President Obama personified to voters in the campaign. Now it is time for him to find the right carrots and sticks to energize people into delivering on those results and benefits.

Good leaders and coaches know they must create a playbook for how the team will operate. And "fear" is not required as much as strong standards and accountability. When the playbook is not followed, or if the standards are violated, it must be dealt with decisively and swiftly. Otherwise cynicism and bureaucratic resistance will grow, especially in a system as vast and complex as the U.S. government.

The same accountability is needed in our foreign policy. Here, carrots are preferred to sticks. But regimes such as those in North Korea, Sudan and Iran must clearly recognize the connection between their own actions and how it can lead to either improved relations or increased pressure.

The same framework applies to our allies. If they are demonstrating concrete support to help us accomplish our foreign policy objectives, there should be rewards. If they are not fulfilling their pledges of support, such as troops or donor money for humanitarian efforts, there should be consequences. At the same time, we cannot hold others to this standard of accountability unless we are first adhering to it ourselves.

President Obama still has tremendous political capital and popularity around the world. Orchestrating the right incentives, both positive and negative, and holding people accountable for results, will allow him to effect change we can all believe in.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  August 19, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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