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Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

Beating the Boss

Imagine you want your boss’s job. It’s potentially an awkward and thorny pursuit that requires sharp political competence. The first step is probably to quit your job. It’s impossible to both serve and challenge your superior at the same time. The challenge then is campaigning for the position while defending your previous service for the boss. Jon Huntsman, President Obama’s former ambassador to China and current challenger for reelection, finds himself in this precise position.

Consider his past support for the President:

“I applaud the President’s handling of the [bin Laden] mission” (RealClearPolitics)

“You are a remarkable leader. It has been a great honor getting to know you” (Yahoo! News)

Then, in abrupt fashion, Huntsman quit his ambassadorship, returned to the United States, and entered a campaign built on a foundation of “civility, humanity, and respect” (NY Times). Now he attempts to persuade a conservative GOP primary electorate that he has the credentials and credibility to defeat a “remarkable leader”.

To avoid being branded as a calculating hypocrite, Huntsman has to defend his past service while aggressively criticizing Obama’s current policies. Here, “civility” emerges as the key to sustaining this delicate balancing act.

Civility allows a leader to assert maturity and confidence while challenging a close friend or former superior. A respectful campaign tone becomes a strategic political tool that allows the challenger to define the terms of debate. Huntsman, by refusing to go negative, prevents Obama from credibly disparaging his campaign.

He can offer an “insider’s perspective” on the weaknesses of the current administration while insulating himself from outside attack. After all, Obama implicitly endorsed Huntsman by originally hiring him for the ambassadorship.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if the GOP electorate will endorse Huntsman’s moderate platform. In the meantime, we’ll see if Huntsman has the superior political chops to defeat his former superior.



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