Politics aside, Barack Obama runs his organization with a management style that can and should be emulated by business managers. I’d like to point out three key lessons for managers from observing President Obama.
Key Lesson #1: Transparency
Barack Obama has set a tone of transparency with his administration. By transparency, I mean that he is forthcoming and proactive with his intentions as Manager-in-Chief.
His weekly video address is a great example of transparency. Each week, Obama presents himself to the nation in an intimate format – a YouTube-sized video about current issues and his intentions on addressing them. Whether you agree or disagree with his plans, he lays them out for every American to watch and digest on their own time.
At one of my previous companies (a private firm), the COO would open the books (P&L, sales pipeline, and more) to the whole company in a meeting called State of the Onion. This transparency engendered greater trust and faith in the employees since they could see and ask questions about the internals of the business.
I think many managers, especially young managers, will be reluctant to “expose their cards” to the whole team – especially in bad times. But I believe that transparency breeds loyalty.
FastCompany declared Team Obama as the year’s most successful startup, which “took a skinny kid with a funny name and turned him into the most powerful new national brand in a generation.”
Since taking office, Obama and his team have continued to move at the pace they set in the campaign, moving forward his agenda, such as announcing plans to close Guantanamo and vigorously pushing for the historic stimulus plan.
Good managers take action quickly. The create a plan an execute on it. People are inspired by momentum, and are frustrated by bureaucracy.
When I applied for a MIT Sloan class taught by former G.E. Chairman Jack Welch, the essay topic was What experience provides the best evidence that you can “get it done” ? In the class Jack espoused the values and benefits in the concept of winning. This is a concept that Obama knows and demonstrates well.
Key Lesson #3: Expect Crisis
In less than a month in office, President Obama has met with his share of crises.
After Obama nominated Tom Daschle to be his secretary of health and human services, it was uncovered that Daschle failed to pay taxes. Obama, torn between the high ethical standards he had spoken about on inauguration day and his desire to move his political agenda forward, exacerbated the crisis by outwardly supporting Daschle. The New York Times called for Daschle to withdraw, as did many others. Fortunately, Daschle did.
I doubt Obama antipicated that Daschle and other appointees would be derelict on their taxes, and we can learn from his missed opportunity to adapt quickly to that crisis.
In business, crisis can occur when a key employee leaves suddenly or when a key contract is pulled. Managers who anticipate these events will be less surprised and can react more quickly.
Moreover, managers who bring transparency to the workplace and have a history of “getting it done” will be most ready to respond in a crisis.