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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

Solutions not sound bites

Question: In taking control of the House this week, Republicans have committed themselves to investigating and repealing all of the major initiatives taken by the Democratic president and Congress over the past two years. How much should the new leaders of any organization focus on undoing the past as opposed to charting a more affirmative course for the future?

Gaining power is not the same as gaining wisdom. With power comes authority but also responsibility. Undoing the work of a predecessor makes for good sound bites, but it may not make for sound governance.

Governance is hard work. It involves putting the needs of others ahead of your own. For leaders, that often means turning down their own egos in an effort to work with other, even bigger, egos in order to achieve positive results.

A leader of any organization must strive for common purpose. This does not mean shirking tough decisions that will have negative consequences for some (executives close facilities; lawmakers may cut services), but it does mean putting aside partisanship for the greater good of the organization.

A challenge for any leader assuming power over a new organization is to ask one simple question: How can I make things better?

This question raises challenges that are related to the present (What must I do now?) as well as the future (How will I be remembered?).

For the present, leaders must deal with the pain first--that is, stop making things worse. What we do today affects what we will be tomorrow. Fiscal discipline is essential to the integrity of both public and private sectors, but so too is the creation of new jobs that will enable people to build their own futures.

For the future, leaders must look for new ways of doing things. What works for us may not work for our grandchildren. This means leaders of today must be looking for ways to deliver solutions that ensure economic, social and environmental gains.

In his inaugural address on January 1st, the new governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, said, "The old unbelievable needs to become the new achievable." That notion embraces not only innovation as it relates to business, but innovation as it shapes governance.

Innovation requires an open mind--one that listens to ideas, embraces what is possible and acts for results. Instead of playing against one another, we need to play with one other. Now is the time for leadership in service to the nation, not politics in service to partisanship.

The problems before us demand bold thinking and even bolder actions. The solution to our problems requires well-intentioned men and women in the public and private sectors working creatively to turn what is possible into what is practical.

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By John Baldoni

 |  January 4, 2011; 11:13 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The unsung heroes: Enterprising entrepreneurs | Next: Making good on a promise


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Good job, thhalejr01. I'll add another (although less explicitly partisan) point to yours. Baldoni says in the article that governance is hard work, and we agree. And it's hard work because narrow ideological solutions fail in the notoriously complicated realms of politics and economics. Simplistic "solutions" just aren't solutions at all. And the sloganeering demagoguery which offers up ideological quick fixes to nearly intractable problems is contemptible.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | January 9, 2011 11:11 AM
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It's very telling that the most astute observation of leadership on this issue has no comments. No "LIBERAL", "LIBERAL ELITES", or other asinine stereotypes to say in this piece. Leadership and governance is hard; the Republicans failed at it in the House in '95 and are making the exact same mistakes this time.

However, because, for some strange reason, intelligence is scoffed at in this country by some, this will be a welcomed strategy from the GOP. They need "low information" voters to carry out their agenda, and there are plenty of them going around today. Further evidence why this country has gone from 1st in the world in education to the bottom 1/3. Embarrassing for a country so full of educational and intellectual opportunity.

GOP leadership in government today needs to focus on the REAL work that needs to get done and stop pandering to the crazies that are taking over their party. Totally discredit the birthers; stop talking about deficit reduction while adding $1 trillion to said deficit; and work for the totality of the American populace. That's what true leadership does; not cowtowing to the lunatic 20% in this country who have been around for centuries. They're another passing "fad" that will be a distant memory a few years from now. Remember the John Birch Society?

56% of the American people support the Affordable Care Act. The notion that the American people don't want health care reform is as idiotic as some of the signs you see at tea party rallies.

Posted by: thhalejr01 | January 8, 2011 7:50 AM
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