Sunday, February 03, 2008

Barack Obama: Style Counts

"real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose"

Barack Obama inspires people. I know I am more inspired by him than I have been by any presidential candidate in my lifetime. (JFK was before my time, though given the "Camelot mystique" that is his legacy, I'm not surprised that JFK's brother and daughter recognize the phenomenon in Obama.) I wrote the other day about his refreshing candor, but I think it's his ability to inspire, linked with his style of getting things done that makes him so compelling. And this "inspiration business" is not just some squishy insubstantial thing, it has a significant impact on what he can get done. The substance is definitely there: just go to his website and you can read for yourself positions articulated on all of the major issues. Impartial analyses of the candidates identify mostly minor differences in the details of policy proposals from Clinton and Obama. But anyone who's been around for a presidential term or two knows that what a candidate proposes while running, and what (if anything) ultimately gets delivered is always different, the result a function of politics. That's where style really counts. It's not just what they say they're going to do that's important, it's how they are going to do it. What we've suffered for the last couple of decades is an increasingly bitter partisan divide, where most things get stymied, and what gets through is rammed through on a 51/49 majority. What we don't need is someone who will just flip the 51/49 to 49/51 and dig the trenches deeper. That's where Obama is really different. He won't just go off in seclusion with some experts and come back with "the answer" and expect everyone to buy into it. (Remember Hillary's health plan?) His style of working is to engage all of the stakeholders early on, really understand their positions, and work toward a win/win solution. (You can read about how Obama worked with activists pushing for universal health coverage, as well as worked with doctors and insurers, to craft a policy for Illinois that people on all sides of the issue were content with -- in this article, skip about halfway down.) Jonathan Cohn, investigating Obama's record in the Illinois state house, says this: "Time after time, Obama brought adversaries into the process early, heard out their concerns, then fashioned compromises many of them ultimately supported." If this talk about "win/win" and bringing in stakeholders early sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you've worked in or with business consultants, or taken a course in business process improvement at a large company. This is not just "singing I have a dream" squishy stuff. They teach this stuff in business schools, because that's how change in any large organization gets successfully accomplished. It's about understanding all the stakeholders, and what is the "right" way to change. It's also about understanding what motivates people, and motivating them, leading them, and sometimes inspiring them. That's the sort of experience and the sort of character that we need in our next president, and nobody has it like Obama. That's why I am voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Barack Obama speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Day

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