Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’
Leadership is very messy. I was asked the other night at dinner why President Obama was not coming out slinging on the repair of the healthcare website. Why was he not saying anything? And why were his advisors not telling him to speak up and put a stop to the constant naysaying? Well, for one, I think the reason is that there is nothing to say until it is fixed. He apologized and put a bookend on the mess for now. That was the right strategy. Now he should say nothing until it has been resolved. Why keep it in the headlines by saying something? No one wants another BP oil spill where the headlines went on for weeks regarding how much oil was spilling into the Gulf.
I read the New York Times columnist Bill Keller’s to-do list for President Obama on how tosalvage his reputation now that it has stalled. Keller basically says that now is not the time for “grand new initiatives.” True. He goes on to say, “ It’s not that I want the president to think small; by all means, address the threat of climate catastrophe and push ahead on early childhood education. But he needs to get a few wins on the scoreboard.” Absolutely. Now is not the time for the big speeches, big sweeping initiatives, big words. Now is the time for small, incremental steps that change the conversation and get him back on track. I also found it interesting that Michelle Obama chose this time to release news that she is going to focus on higher education for low-income students. Clearly, a great policy decision but the timing is not coincidental. The White House needs some positive news to overshadow the constant barrage of negative sentiment surrounding the White House. Everyone loves Michelle and who can argue with her for coming to the rescue. Wonder if we will be seeing more of the kids now.
However, this too shall pass. Maybe we should spend more time focusing on the devastation in the Phillipines and what we can do.
I think bad news comes in threes. Thinking about President Obama and the recent bad news he has received regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the secretly snatched AP reporters’ phone records, it has to be true. It is the culmination and convergence of these three reputation hits that changed the political balance in favor of the Republicans and Tea Party members for a change. Not a full tilt but enough to rain on the President’s parade.
When I talk to company leaders about what drives a reputation into the ground, I often use the baseball metaphor that all it takes is three strikes and you are out. The first mistake happens to just about everyone these days. The second reputation hit is basically unforgivable but no one wants to put you out of business. The third hit takes you down because it is clear that leadership was absent and judgement was non-existent or negligent (even worse). When I think of the perfect example of the Three Strike Reputation Rule, I think of BP. First, they were tied to 15 deaths when the Texas Refinery blew up in 2005 in the US. Second, an oil leak in Alaska from their pipeline in Prudhoe Bay captured negative attention. But third, and for the final straw, the horrific Gulf of Mexico oil spill that ultimately drove their reputation into the ground, along with their CEO’s Tony Hayward. After the third strike, it’s time to call it quits.
Yet, from what I’ve been reading, President Obama’s approval ratings have barely budged from their high marks. Perhaps we will see the proof in the pudding at the next election cycle. Hard to tell. And BP, after much soul searching, is coming back again with new leadership, better values and a new heartbeat. The rest is yet to come.
When new CEOs start in their jobs, their early actions or what they say at their first retreats with the senior team are memorable. Everyone is on high alert and wondering if things will be different, how their new CEOs will establish legitimacy and set a new tone. So my CEO First 100 day antennae were up and ready for incoming signals at our first senior team meeting with our new CEO. It was a great meeting, lots of discussion, priority-making and theme setting. But what pleased me most was what I would call establishing a CEO signature. Sometimes it could be as simple as handing out books to the team that they should read, inviting certain types of guests or inviting new people to the table. Everything matters because everyone is reading the tea leaves — what does this mean? what signal is he/she sending?
So I was pleased when our new CEO, an insider, began the meeting reading parts of an email that someone had sent him earlier that morning about a meeting with a potential new client. The email was about the 6 reasons to love my company, Weber Shandwick — Smart people who respond even when they are insanely busy, a core group you can always depend upon and never let you down, knowing what great looks like, pride in the people in the room with you and share the company name on their business card, our new business people who always have your back 24/7, and colleagues who always set the bar higher. Then later in the morning, our new CEO read another email he had received from a major business publication praising the firm on their responses to interview clients for a story. He wrote that he just had to let our new CEO know that he has never seen a pr firm respond with such rapidity, thoughtfulness, thoroughness and smarts.
At that moment I decided that this had to be our new CEO’s signature….sharing these kinds of notes with the team. First, it felt great hearing what people had said about the company and second, it was all about the work and colleagues. It just felt so right. I immediately thought of how President Obama reads 10 letters a day to see what people are thinking. I had just read a note he had sent to a young girl who has two dads and asked the President about being teased at school and asking him what he would do. The President wrote the little girl with his advice.
CEOs must get amazing notes — good and bad. It makes sense to let everyone hear how the firm makes an impact in unexpected ways that do not get shared every day. There was some drama in the emails being read which I loved. It deepened the sense of a shared experience and community which is what a CEO should try to instill, especially at the outset.
We at Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research take the topic of civility seriously (see Civility in America, our third annual survey) because it impacts the reputation of the United States and affects public discourse. The new survey we just released is among 1,053 adults, 18+, and was conducted between September 14-16th. Data were weighted to align with the U.S. population distribution.
We found two-thirds (66 percent) of likely voters saying incivility was a major problem in society with 85 percent also saying political campaigns are uncivil. By a margin of almost 2 to1 (62 percent to 32 percent), likely voters said incivility has always been part of the political process but more than three-quarters (78 percent) said incivility in politics is worse now than it has ever been.
Since the debates are upon us (first one is tomorrow night), we decided to ask Americans about they perceived the civility of the candidates. Here is what we learned – there is a civility gap between the candidates:
- A majority of likely voters, 55 percent – 42 percent, considers President Obama’s campaign tone to be civil, while a plurality, 49 percent – 45 percent, perceives Governor Romney’s tone as uncivil. The civility gap is potentially significant because nearly half of likely voters polled, 48 percent, say the candidate’s civility will be a “very important” factor in how they vote.
- The gap was much less pronounced for the Vice Presidential candidates. Vice President Biden was seen as civil by a margin of 49 percent to 43 percent while likely voters were evenly split in their assessment of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, with 46 percent saying he was civil and the same number saying he had been uncivil.
- Fifty-seven percent of likely voters say that any incivility demonstrated on the debate stage will affect their votes. The sentiment was shared equally by self-described Democrats (54 percent), Republicans (55 percent) and Independents (58 percent).
- If you saw today’s Wall Street Journal article on incivility online, we could have told them that 23 percent of likely voters said they defriended someone on Facebook or stopped following them on Twitter not because of their political views but because those views were expressed uncivilly.
- And when it comes to tuning OUT of political advertising, a sizeable 75 percent of likely voters are doing so and nearly as many – 72 percent — are tuning out when they receive emails asking for political campaign support. My in-box is full, how’s yours?
All of this comes down to the degradation of political reputations in the future. We learned that seventy-three percent of likely voters say that incivility in politics deters qualified people from going into public service. That’s a large number and if it is as true as it must be, we have a lot of work ahead of us.
I guess I knew it would happen quickly but I did not expect it to happen so soon and so disturbingly. Our survey on Civility in America was released just this week. Many Americans (55%) believe that incivility is only getting worse and 81% believe it is harming our future. No doubt about the fact that it is hurting our reputation. Although I was immersed in my work today, I just glimpsed at a Twitter mention of a reporter interrupting President Obama’s speech in the Rose Garden on a new policy on immigration. Apparently the reporter called out or tried to interrupt with questions which is unusual when the president is speaking. Where’s the decorum these days?
As a believer in “soft power,” I think that I have to make an exception when it comes to presidential leadership and politics. President Obama may be in need of using a slightly hybrid type of power on the hard-soft continuum. Soft power is a term that has gained prominence in how leaders communicate whether they be presidents, prime ministers or CEOs. Soft power became part of the business lexicon when it was defined by Joseph Nye at Harvard’s Kennedy School several years ago – ”Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others.” It is different from “hard power” which uses sticks, carrots and sometimes coercion to get things done. Most CEOs today, like Obama, use soft power to influence outcomes, get employees to follow their strategy and treat customers well. We see CEOs walking the halls, holding town meetings, sending out congratulatory notes, caring about the community and so forth. The command-and-control hard power employed by CEOs of years past does not work as well in the Information Age.
Obama’s bi-partisianship and consensus-driven “soft power” approach may be in need of a serious shift. Instead of leaning closer to the soft end of the power spectrum, President Obama needs to lean forward using more “firm power.” There has got to be an in-between where President Obama can lead the country and the U.S. can lead the world with immedicacy, steadfastness and hard action. As Nye has said, “Reputation has always mattered in political leadership, but the role of credibility becomes an even more important power resource because of the paradox of plenty.” Obama’s reputation for credibilty is bruised. Coalition-building takes too long and is too hard to measure when pennies, jobs and confidence count. His activities and communications are too diffuse at this time of global economic crisis. Firm power might just be the answer for these unusual times.
[Whether firm power applies to CEOs, I do not think so. I still that that soft power gets better results and attracts the best talent when employed by business leaders. And ultimately....CEOs do not have to build coalitions in the way that politicians do. CEOs can fire the nay-sayers more easily. Presidents do not have that option. ]
I must be on a “leadership” kick as this week ends. Yesterday I posted about leadership’s role in crisis preparedness. Today I am going to post on the effects of crisis on a leader. At a dinner the other night, my colleague mentioned the impact of the killing of Osama bin Laden on President Obama. We agreed that he had to be a changed man. In yesterday’s reading, Daniel Henninger wrote the following in the same vein:
A candidate is not a president. In the fall of 2008, after Mr. Obama won, our offices were visited by then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a former anti-mob prosecutor. Asked about the Obama criticisms of the war on terror, Mr. Chertoff replied that it was impossible to overstate the sobering effect of learning the true magnitude of the threat and bearing responsibility for thwarting it. On another occasion, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who as a federal judge presided over terrorist trials in New York, was asked the difference between his understanding of terrorism then and as attorney general. “About the difference,” he replied “between what you thought you knew in the sixth grade and a post-doctoral education.”
Without a doubt, the decision to launch the Seals attack on bin Laden’s hideout and the risks that entailed changed the man. Whenever people go through their CEO transition to finally land their company’s highest office, they realize the enormity of the position. Nothing ever looks the same. The buck really does stop at that corner door. As you’ve undoubtedly heard before from Shakespeare,
“Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.”
A new survey from Norton made its way to me and collided in my head with another observation. The survey among British adults was about online reputation and some interesting tidbits surfaced in the perennial discussion of reputations online. Once again, it quickly gets down to privacy issues that seem increasingly difficult to fence in online. Over one half of British respondents said they would not mind “resetting” the button to erase everything about them online. I think there is a huge pent up demand to hit that reset button at least once in our lifetimes — and for good reason. About four in ten (40%) report that they don’t actively safeguard their reputations online. We worry and pout about the loss of privacy but do we do anything really to protect ourselves?
I sometimes try to imagine the world even five years from now when everything about us is woven together into an online profile about where we were born, our friends, colleagues, indiscretions, good deeds, professional and professional events we attended all spliced together with rumors, hearsay, innuendo and just plain misinformation. I got to thinking about this as I was reading an interesting article about President Obama’s mother and her journey to Indonesia with the president as a young boy. I thought how interesting it was that the author, Janny Scott, had to interview Stanley Ann Dunham’s (Obama’s mother) former colleagues, friends, neighbors and two children (one being in the White House) about her because she never lived her life online. This was all pre-Internet days. Probably a good thing. The author had to resort to the old way of writing a book . It is almost delicious in its quaintness. Here is what is says on Amazon about the book:
Award-winning reporter Janny Scott interviewed nearly two hundred of Dunham’s friends, colleagues, and relatives (including both her children), and combed through boxes of personal and professional papers, letters to friends, and photo albums, to uncover the full breadth of this woman’s inspiring and untraditional life, and to show the remarkable extent to which she shaped the man Obama is today.
The juxtaposition of people living their lives online for all to see with people who lived the majority of their lives without the scrutiny and accessibility of the Internet actually makes the new book even more interesting because it probably contains the unknowable. Imagine depending on letters and photo albums to tell our lives today. Almost unthinkable.
Who would have thought that who you lunch with matters? A new way to pick stocks is revealed in BusinessWeek. Research found that if you bet on the CEOs that President Obama has dined with since taking office, you’d be outperforming the S&P 500 index. The six luncheon set of CEOs he has met with outperformed the S&P by more than two percentage points. The article points out the the President is obviously only going to dine with winners, not losers or scandalized companies, so it makes commonsense. Although this strategy for stockpicking is not recommended, it is hard not to think that there is some smart thinking behind the CEO luncheon invitations. Just get out your list of most admired CEOs and see if they are dining at the White House and away you go.
Forget that economics or business degree. This may be a lot easier.
The reputation of business is certainly in need of repair. CEOs probably even more. Here’s a start to helping show that they do serve a purpose. President Obama turned to chief executive officers for ideas on making the government more efficient and modern. At least the President and business leaders were seated at the table together and acknowledging that business has something to teach government in return. Nearly 50 CEOs were invited to the White House this past week to “brainstorm” how to better streamline technology to improve government infrastructure. CEOs were placed in break out groups to discuss ideas on making government more responsive and customer service oriented with the help of IT. The sessions were called Forums on Government Modernization.
The President says that government can’t do it alone. He said that while the public can make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets online, people can’t electronically set up appointments with the Social Security Administration.” The general public could surely tell the President that the technology revolution has not reached government. Anyone applying for a government document knows this well. CEOs came up with several ideas such as producing performance report cards to reach goals, instigating a crisis to get things started, changing the culture, creating a Manhattan Project group, etc.
As the president said:
To this day, there are still places in the federal government where reams of yellow files in manila envelopes are walked from desk to desk, or boxes of documents are shipped back and forth between offices because files aren’t yet online. Believe it or not, in our patent office — now, this is embarrassing — this is an institution responsible for protecting and promoting innovation — our patent office receives more than 80 percent of patent applications electronically, then manually prints them out, scans them, and enters them into an outdated case management system. This is one of the reasons why the average processing time for a patent is roughly three years. Imminently solvable; hasn’t been solved yet.
Business has its problems but not this bad! Business leaders have teachable experience getting organizations moving forward on difficult and culture changing initiatives and changes. CEOs have faced many of these challenges many times over and can lend a hand. The White House videotaped the discussions (here’s one of them) and it didn’t take three years to get them up on their site. Progress.
The sessions on tape should go a little ways towards demonstrating that CEOs do more than go to the bank. Every little bit helps to improve the reputation of business. I am all for that.