Pretty much any recently democratically elected head of state made it to the top thanks to their ability to convince voters they would bring the best CHANGE: change of politics, change of style, change of people. Ironically, this is also true for re-elected candidates: they were able to convince they would bring change in continuity! I have already offered some views in French about Sarkozy’s efforts and here I’d like to mention a few HBR posts that I recently read about President Obama’s ability to implement the change he promised. Of course, the challenge, while commenting politics from a purely “technical” viewpoint is precisely to not be politically biased, which, let’s face it, is a difficult task; so I’m quite happy to give you these two contradicting views on the success of Obama’s change leadership efforts:
The first relates to Obama’s face-to-face meeting with some of his sharpest critics at the Republican party conference in Baltimore, which, according to John Baldoni’s post, was a demonstration of how to face critics and lead under fire, providing 7 key learning points to business leaders:
- Show up
- Be open
- Be cool
- Acknowledge your shortcomings
- Criticize gently
- Smile frequently
- Leave them wanting more
What hits me the most in this video is how Obama is desparately trying to keep the discussion on a non-political and non-ideological level. It is an interesting situation that a business leader could well meet when facing union representatives, some of which (at least here in Europe and particularly France) are heavily influenced by an ideology.
The second post, by Ron Ashkenas, uses a change management report card framework based on 4 key ingredients (he mentions that it was created by ” a team of top-academics and consultants” but it probably didn’t require too much creativity as it appears to be a simple selection or rewording of Kotter’s 8 steps model) to assess Obama’s performance:
- Make the case for change: is precisely what Obama spent his campaign doing, successfully so
- Create a vision of what will be different: a task in which the president seems to have had mixed results, at least according to Ron Ashkenas, because of his inability to be more specific on the policies he is trying to implement
- Mobilize commitment to change: the plan that was to build a wide bi-partisan coalition of support, has not been successfully applied yet, despite Obama’s efforts that we just saw. One has to admit that this is probably a much more difficult task in a political context, where behaviours are dictated by the elections agenda and lines of hierarchy are party-based, than in a company where one man is in charge.
- Generate early successes that build momentum and learning: this is definately a key change success factor that is also compatible with a political agenda because the earlier people will see benefits of new policies the more likely they are to continue to support the people in charge. Again, Ron Askenas’ view is that Obama could have done much better.
Polls as well as the recent democratic Massachusetts senate seat loss confirm that americans expect more tangible results. More engagement with the republicans and the ability to generate and communicate positive results are certainly required for Obama to regain support.
What do you think he could do better?