Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

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Make or break

Q: President Obama, who is said to be wary of "outsiders," is facing his first senior-staff shuffle, in which he'll lose two of his closest aides. Do you see such times of change -- in Obama's example and in your own experience -- as a positive or a negative? Do you see your success as coming mostly from following your instincts and sticking to a tight-knit group of advisers, or from collaborating with a wide array of people?

Every president has successes and failures, which can have a profound impact both on the nation and for the legacy of the president in question. There is an old Washington adage that is well known to those in power: "Your enemies will try to destroy you, but it is your friends who will succeed."

Presidents often choose their advisers from among the people they know and trust. But often, these are the people who can create considerable heartburn for them. The advisers who control the information and advice coming to the chief executive deserve much of the blame for a failed presidency, just as they can take some credit for a successful term. Does history remember the advisers? No, but history does remember the president.

It is said that President Obama is wary of outsiders. This, if true, limits his team to people who have survived and thrived in what is viewed as the sultry world of Chicago and Illinois politics. We all hope for a better future and for a president who will learn from his errors. Most Americans understand we are experiencing tough times, but they feel the president has had plenty of opportunities to make a difference. He still has time to forge a successful presidency, but there is wide belief that his ideology is far to the left of most Americans.

The controversy over the mosque at Ground Zero was instructive -- not because of the president's stance on the issue, but because he chose to take a stand at all. Why did he want to get involved as an advocate and make what was a local issue explode into headlines? Certainly he knew that this would reignite misconceptions about his personal beliefs and feed longstanding prejudices against him. Did his advisers point these things out to him? Advisers make or break you.

My experience is to find people with skill sets far in excess of my own and to try to be guided by their wisdom. This would be my advice for President Obama.

Some internal change is good. Hire people who are not loyalists to you. Hire people who are loyal to the nation and who will give you good advice. Hire people with the expertise our country needs. It is time to get some fresh ideas and see what can be accomplished over the next two years. Good luck, Mr. President.

By Jan Scruggs  |  October 4, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and instinct Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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