Obama's report card
Q: Even before we know the outcome of the health care vote in the House, how would you rate President Obama's leadership on the issue?
Warren Bennis' landmark study of 90 leaders in the 1960s at the height of student unrest, campus upheaval, and civic daily protests showed that despite the broad diversity of leadership styles, four characteristics were common--the management of attention, the management of meaning, the management of self, and the management of trust. All four are appropriate constructs through which to evaluate President Obama's leadership on the issue of health-care reform.
The management of attention
From the beginning of his campaign, the President included health care as a major plank in his platform of promises he intended to keep if elected. His clarity and focus on this issue remained constant, and he has been unrelenting in his efforts to get coverage for the 30 million who lack it. He has an ability to generate attention for the issues that affect the lives of most Americans. Getting attention is the first step in getting change.
The management of meaning
While he has managed the attention on this issue, he has had greater difficulty managing the meaning. Perhaps he assumed that Americans were really paying closer attention to the details than they were. But in the abyss of ignorance, he allowed the opposition to frame the narrative. Facts are important, but knowing what they mean is priceless. The president's forte is the management of meaning, linking policy to real people and it just recently has been exercised.
The management of self
This president is one of the most self assured human beings we've seen in recent political history. He is reserved but open, honest, and direct about what he has done well and where he has not succeeded. He is graceful under pressure and appears to have a solid, unshakable sense of who he is. All this self regard is tempered with a genuine respect and care for others.
The management of trust
Trust is the glue that holds every group or institution together; without it, not much that is decided can endure. The president is challenged with leading at a time of increasing distrust and cynicism about government. The origins of public distrust preceded his presidency and are, in part, one of the cultural influences for why his message of hope resonated so strongly. Once trust is gone, it's very hard to regain it; yet, that is what the president must do. Because of the fragility of trust in existence, it won't take much to contribute to this erosion. There are political "leaders" determined to contribute to the mistrust. In spite of this, President Obama must work to establish it. He has maintained trust with his closest colleagues and with a slight majority of Americans. To be seen as trustworthy, he must keep his promises and deliver health care.
Grade: To Be Determined
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