A brain trust for President Obama?
What was idle chatter earlier this week about a shakeup in Obama's ranks has risen to shouting levels now that the mayor's job in Chicago is up for grabs and the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, could run for it.
In today's Post, Karen Tumulty examines what a wider shakeup of Obama's staff could mean, especially with the midterm elections so close. Her article reminds us that such a reorganization is not uncommon two years into a presidency, when staffers are burned out and ready to return to their families. She looks back at the changes President Clinton made to his advisers in 1994, when Democrats lost control of the House, as they are widely expected to do in November.
Clinton reconnected with his old political adviser Dick Morris, reorienting his strategy toward making more deals with Republicans, a move that helped to save his presidency. But he also went so far, Tumulty reminds us, as to bring three motivational gurus to Camp David--Anthony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and Steven R. Covey. All three are authors and inspirational speakers plying the secrets to achievement, spirituality and effectiveness; two of them have practically become caricatures of the genre.
That was 1994, of course, and that was the Clintons. The chances of Obama summoning a self-help brigade to Washington is about as likely as John Boehner becoming a Democrat. But that's not to say he couldn't benefit from a few off-the-wall, non-political voices to stimulate fresh thinking in an executive office that's thought by many to be too insular. Of course, consultants, many of whom traffic in tired aphorisms and common-sense advice, are hardly the answer. But stepping out of Washington's circle of advisers for some fresh ideas certainly couldn't hurt.
Humor me, for a moment, and help me think of who might make up a more serious modern-day guru summit. I'll start, by suggesting the following three:
Obama's economic team has been beset by infighting, and a thought leader who can help Obama examine both the best ways to put together teams and when they're actually needed is Jon Katzenbach. Author of the best-seller The Wisdom of Teams, founder of an eponymous consulting firm (since acquired by Booz & Co.) and adviser to major corporations, Katzenbach is arguably the smartest guy out there when it comes to building organizations and teams that work. Katzenbach would likely prompt Obama to think hard about when a team is really necessary, and when it would be better to just put someone in charge. "The notion that a team is always better is misleading," he told Fast Company. "Yet all too often, that's the path that managers choose."
Obama's senior advisers have been criticized for being too insular, made up of people who have been with him for years. To help him reach out to a wide group of divergent thinkers, he might talk to Christopher Meyer. The founder of Monitor Talent, Meyer acts as a matchmaker of sorts, connecting leaders looking for inspiration to a broad rolodex of experts on science, business and society. A thought leader himself--Meyer is the co-author of Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy--Meyer could tailor a panel of future-minded thinkers on the biggest problems our country faces, from the economy to the environment.
In the coming months, Obama will have countless opportunities to do some deep soul-searching, and will have to decide whether he'll compromise more with the right, as Clinton did, or stick hard and fast to his base. Leadership is indeed a lonely job, and there are countless psychologists, experts and coaches ready to serve as sounding boards for the difficult questions Obama will face. As a longtime writer on management topics, I have spoken to many of them, and few are worth a second thought. But I have always walked away from conversations with University of Southern California sage Warren Bennis feeling hopeful that leadership is not just a murky practice that enriches gurus but the most important skill of our time, and one that must be practiced, practiced, practiced. "Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself," he's said before, and would likely say to Obama. "It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult."
September 9, 2010; 10:53 AM ET |
Federal government leadership
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