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Ed O'Malley

Ed O'Malley

A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed O’Malley is President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, a first-of-its-kind training center charged with fostering large-scale civic leadership for healthier communities. He tweets at eomalley.

The mobilizer: President Obama

Question: Considering all spheres of endeavor, who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?

Leadership is mobilizing people to accomplish deep, daunting work. That's why I cringed when candidate Barack Obama was often called a leader. Using that definition of leadership, his record was thin.

But, when the Washington Post asked me who should be named the 2010 Leader of the Year, the answer was obvious: President Barack Obama.

I don't agree with all of President Obama's policy agenda, but it is hard to argue that he has been anything but successful in advancing the very types of policies he said he would advance.

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He's not the most popular guy anymore, but that tends to happen when you exercise leadership. He has taken a lot of casualties (see the November election results), but, again, that's often a byproduct of exercising leadership.

His list of accomplishments is significant: health-care reform, financial industry reform, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, passage of the START treaty and more. His scorecard is looking good.

We don't know if President Obama's leadership will lead to substantial progress. Leadership is, by its nature, an experimental and improvisatory art. Whether we agree with his policies or not there are leadership lessons for all of us in how he has accomplished so much.

Increase your tolerance for casualties: After the Scott Brown election, President Obama surely knew health-care reform was not politically wise. I assume he cared more for advancing the policy than for maintaining his large majority. Too many leadership ventures fail due to the inability of people to stomach casualties.

Give the work back: He was criticized for allowing Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid too much control over drafting legislation. Perhaps he realized that to get their buy-in for politically challenging policy, their fingerprints would need to be all over the legislation. By giving the work back, he helped increase their tolerance for casualties.

Hold steady: President Obama didn't change course as his approval ratings began to plummet from historic highs. Holding steady in the face of declining public approval ratings is a leadership behavior. Ironically, it is one that President Obama and President George W. Bush share.

While the president may be worthy of 2010 Leader of the Year status, the deepest, most daunting challenges facing our country will require much more leadership than we have seen from him.

Specifically, he has shown an inability to foster a trustworthy process among Democrats and Republicans. He also seldom helps Americans understand the loss associated with progress on major challenges (e.g. the debt can't be solved without raising taxes and/or reducing entitlements). Without addressing those leadership deficiencies, his policy successes of 2010 and Leader of the Year status won't last long.

However, the leadership lessons I mentioned will stand the test of time and are useful for all of us, whether we lead as elected officials, non-profit volunteers, business officials, pastors, soldiers or citizens.

By Ed O'Malley

 |  December 29, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Government leadership , Leadership development , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: josephpatel | December 29, 2010 10:38 AM
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