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Michael Useem

Michael Useem

Michael Useem is Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Patient leadership

Q: In the past week, China and Israel have issued sharp rebukes to President Obama and his approach to issues relating to trade and West Bank settlements. As a world leader facing political challenges at home, is this the right moment for Obama to show toughness and resolve and risk escalating the confrontations or to demonstrate patience and diplomacy in trying to defuse them?

Despite repeated U.S. entreaties, China refuses to revalue its undervalued currency and Israel refuses to discontinue its West Bank settlements. In the face of those challenges, this is a good time for President Obama to exercise toughness and resolve - and to demonstrate patience and diplomacy.

Consider the insights from a recent study of some 17,000 managers of 825 companies in 62 countries, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. When asked to identify which leadership qualities work best in their country, managers everywhere stressed decisiveness, an ability to negotiate with others, and a focus on performance.

Whether China, Israel, or the U.S., the research points toward the leadership value of decisiveness and performance, and by implication, the importance of President Obama acting with toughness and resolve in dealing with China and Israel. But in stressing a capacity to negotiate, the research at the same time calls for presidential patience and diplomacy.

The research points as well toward a balanced blending of these seemingly contrary postures. Managers everywhere, the study found, disfavored people of power who were autocratic - and managers everywhere also disfavored those who were indecisive. If Obama's toughness appears autocratic, and if his patience suggests indecisiveness, his leadership will falter both at home and abroad.

In short, the president is well advised to be tough but also patient, resolved but also diplomatic. Like yin and yang - seemingly contrary forces that are in fact complementary - leadership requires the deft and simultaneous exercise of toughness, resolve, patience and diplomacy.

By Michael Useem

 |  March 16, 2010; 5:40 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Nice, Adrienne. But stupid. The Isralis aren't the problem; our bumbling president is the problem. You can only condescend to and insult people so long before they thumb their noses at you. So far, Obama seems to be on track to alienate both friends and rivals. He hasn't much in the way of diplomatic skills to add to his already meagre array of domestic policy skills. If we continue on this path, we'll be broke and in total disarray, with our allies shunning us and our creditors calling in their loans and refusing to lend us more.

Posted by: Lilycat1 | March 16, 2010 1:24 PM
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Screw Israel.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | March 16, 2010 11:35 AM
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Screw Israel.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | March 16, 2010 11:34 AM
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