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Marty Linsky

Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Obama needs to embrace his critics

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?

I'm with Bill Clinton on this one.

The president has to begin by embracing his critics: put his arms around them, hug them, listen to them literally and metaphorically...and, yes, even try to feel their pain.

One of Obama's biggest mistakes in his first two years has been disdaining his critics, beginning with his demeaning reference at that San Francisco fundraiser during his own campaign and culminating in referring to them as "enemies" in the waning hours of the midterm election campaigns.

Empathy is one of the critical skills for leadership. The president cannot possibly govern well for the next two years without being able to understand his critics so deeply that he can tell their stories as well as they can.

After all, this is still an ongoing experiment in self-governance. If you believe in the experiment, as I am sure he does, then all those voters who rejected his first two years on Tuesday cannot be wrong.

By Marty Linsky

 |  November 2, 2010; 10:47 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Government leadership , Leadership personalities , Leadership weaknesses , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Appraise the past to build the future | Next: Work with those that would see you fail


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To ask President Obama to change his life long personality traits instantly is a bit of a stretch. Except for Richard Nixon I have never observed in my life a President more thin skinned, arrogant, and out of touch with the American electorate. A good start would be to give pink slips to Valerie Jarrett and the rest of the yes people around him. Hire a few people that don't agree with everything he utters and have the guts to tell him that he is not the smartest man in the room all of the time. Change the environment.

Posted by: bobbo2 | November 7, 2010 9:45 AM
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Hugs? Are you kidding me? President Obama offered an olive branch to his opposition when he began in office to have it promptly swatted out of his hand as they shouted in disdain "we want you to fail!" These same people have now announced there will be "no compromises of any kind on any issue." These are the same people the president is suppose to embrace? What little delusional fantasy land are you living in?

Posted by: vortex100 | November 7, 2010 7:35 AM
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“I'm with Bill Clinton on this one.”

Agreed. Bill really listened to us. I think he was an excellent president his last 6 years in office. I’ve been saying since before the inauguration, the Obama will have the exact same experience as Bill Clinton in his first 2 years – Liberal overreach followed by an electoral slap-down. What I didn’t know then was if he would respond like Mr. Clinton and become a successful president.

Now that I’ve had enough time to see him in action, I am confident that he will proceed to NOT listen to us. Obama will fail. I think that’s a real shame. I had hopes he could follow in Bill’s footsteps.

Posted by: ZZim | November 3, 2010 12:01 PM
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I'm so looking forward to laughing when the misogynist, sexist belittling tactics that the Democrats have taken up under Obama's leadership against female opponents (Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and now female Republican Congressional candidates) blow up in Obama's face. He sure isn't getting any more of my votes, and it's with great pleasure I read about how Democrats have now lost the female vote. ROFLMAO.

Posted by: AsperGirl | November 2, 2010 10:41 PM
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This writer must be kidding. Obama wasted 2 of his years in office trying to "reach across the aisle" when it was very obvious that the Republicans had absolutely no interest in anything but defeating the Democrats and Obama, country be damned. I shudder to think about what's going to happen now. The most likely scenario is that nothing at all will be done and we will slide into a full-blown depression, while the obscenely rich continue raking in the money.

Posted by: ejs2 | November 2, 2010 7:37 PM
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