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Marshall Goldsmith
Executive Coach/Author

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, speaker, coach and best-selling author. His most recent book is Mojo.

Five ways to serve the people

Question: Like U.S. presidents, military and non-profit leaders often face the equivalent of "midterm elections" in which they and their strategies are subject to an initial market test or performance evaluation. What's the first thing President Obama, or any leader, should do or say when confronted with unambiguously negative results from a mid-course evaluation?

Years ago, I asked then-President Clinton the following question (in a large group), "You have been criticized as being a 'popularity poll' president who is consistently focused on the reaction of the voters to your policies. What is your response to this criticism?"

I thought that his answer was excellent. His reply sounded something like this, "The last time I checked, America was supposed to be a democracy. As president, I am in office to serve the people. Why should I apologize for doing my best to know the will of the people?"

President Obama is in office to serve the people of the United States of America. He was elected by the people and can be removed by the people.

My suggestions for any leaders in this situation are simple:

Listen. Let the people know what you have heard. Assure the people that you are going to take their concerns seriously.

Take responsibility. If your key stakeholders believe that you have made a mistake, you have made a mistake (either in strategy, communication or style).

Avoid 'blaming' your stakeholders. Comments like, "They are angry and confused," or, "They don't know any better," just don't work (even if these comments are correct).

Take action. Take specific actions that are aimed directly at addressing the concerns of the people. Then let the people know why you have taken these actions and how these actions are addressing stated concerns.

Follow up. My partner, Howard Morgan, and I have published research involving more than 86,000 respondents from eight major companies that shows how leaders who receive feedback, pick key areas for improvement and follow up with their stakeholders to ensure progress are almost invariably seen as becoming more effective. Not surprisingly, leaders who get feedback and don't follow up with stakeholders are not seen as improving any more than random chance.

Not long ago, President Obama had amazingly high ratings with voters. I believe that most Americans want him to succeed. This is a wonderful opportunity for him to turn around a very negative trend and to refocus in a way that (in President Clinton's terms) more closely reflects the will of the people.

By Marshall Goldsmith

 |  November 1, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Government leadership , Leadership development , Making mistakes , Political leadership , Politics , Polls , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: It's not what he says, it's whether he means it | Next: Obama's gift of opportunity


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What a fantastic outline for success in a leader. Unfortunately, many leaders refuse to see that following these steps is really their jobs. Politicians, corporate and nonprofit leaders alike serve “the people.” While the definition of “the people” can change, the duties are still the same. This article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-standards/are-you-a-real-professional) further discusses the importance of remembering that leaders still serve.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | November 7, 2010 1:06 PM
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As always Marshall, great stuff. I can't think of a position in life that could afford to ignore your advice.

Posted by: jbeeler | November 5, 2010 8:06 AM
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