BLG Leadership Insights

The Leadership Debate Beneath the Oil Slick: Obama vs. Hillary Again

Organizational leadership is a question of balance, focus, and consistency. Leaders in organizations have to sustain the consistency of a perpetual campaign while keeping an eye on the ball, as well as constituents, agendas, allies, resistors, strategies, and tactics.

There is one critical point in which leaders sometimes stumble and from which it is often difficult to recover. It is the trip-wire that lies between the drama of rallying people to your side and the pragmatics of execution.

Leaders rally others to their position with dramaturgical language, by a sense of commitment, and are often exhausted by their own drama so they begin to allocate the responsibility of execution to others. In the case of President Obama that is what almost tripped him up with health care. In the case of George W. Bush that’s what tripped him up with the promises he made at the World Trade Center and his foreign policy agenda.

A classic example of a president who was able to sustain momentum for the short period of time he was with us was John F. Kennedy. In a specific case, he promised to get America to the moon before the end of the decade and he did. He successfully coupled the sense of urgency with resource commitment.

There are times that leaders must become managers. They must not only become managers, but micro-managers. They must understand that they have not just moral responsibility, not just ideological responsibility, but the micro-responsibility of execution.

The micro-analysis is the true test of a leader’s competency. The problem is that some issues needs micro-management more than other issues. President Obama yesterday delivered a $20-billion dollar promise from BP. He was able to rally people around the idea and use political muscle to get what he wanted. The core of the $20-billion promise demanded a different talent than what is needed to clean up the oil spill. Cleaning up the gulf will demand micro-management. It will demand not simply drama, but the translation of drama into the skills of execution.

During the election there was a great distinction made between Hillary Clinton as a manager and Obama as a leader. There was never a question of Obama’s vision; he was haunted by questions of his managerial capacity. Constantly we heard the distinction between Obama as a visionary and Hillary as a person who could get things done. Those questions have now come to the surface again as we hear more and more nostalgia and a bit of lament among the Hillary supporters. Obama faces the trip-wire that all visionary leaders face sooner or later. Can they deliver? Can they manage under crisis? In a real sense visionary leaders have to learn how to translate promise into execution and translate hope into realization.

Pragmatic and proactive leaders have to deal with the micro-issues of resource allocation, accountability, human resource management, and get into the details of the game. In a time of crisis, as we’ve learned from such leaders as Eisenhower, logistical nuts-and-bolts involvement is the final test of leadership. When you lead you can’t just deal in promises, but you must jump into the nitty-gritty business of everyday action.

Picture Credit: Mega Beth