Note: Even though it’s hard to separate a politician from politics, this post is about leadership and is non-partisan. No matter if you like President Obama or not, this is a post on leadership.
Good leaders act. It’s that simple.
In the last few days, President Barack Obama has come under fire from liberals and conservatives alike for his perceived slow action on the now worst ecological disaster in the history of the United States. In fact, he spent an hour Thursday at a press conference trying to reassure the American people that he’s been engaged since the Deep Horizon platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 21. He insisted that it has been an issue at the top of his priority list every morning and every evening.
The question is if that is the case, why did he visit the gulf today for the first time since this disaster? If it was a priority, like most Americans believe it to be, why has the president taken vacation days, played golf and spent time with the National Championship Duke men’s basketball team before heading to the Gulf to make sure the government’s response was speedy and useful?
Take politics out of it, and it’s safe to say Mr. Obama has not done what chief executives – and leaders at all levels – must do: act.
There is no doubting the oratory skills of our current Commander in Chief. But words only go so far. Leaders must inspire with their words but lead by action and example. Obama has failed that test in this case.
The environmental disaster that is occurring on the Gulf Coast is hard for many Americans to understand. Lives are being devastated and families will soon loose their way of life. The fishing industry, decimated by Katrina, now faces and even worse fate. At a time when unemployment in the United States is near 10%, more families are about to lose their incomes because of this disaster. Everyone is looking to leaders to forge a path so we can help and start to heal the damage.
Local leaders on the Gulf Coast – from both sides of the aisle – have stepped up admirably. They’ve been asking for Federal intervention and help and its been falling on deaf ears. There’s been no response and time has run out. Democrats are now lashing out at their president and Republicans are using it as a platform to attack him on all fronts. It’s hard to defend his position when even his loyal supporters are calling him out.
Times of crisis and turmoil is precisely what sets some leaders apart from others. It can make or break them and, so far, Mr. Obama is not leading the way the American people want him to. He’s had a pattern recently of being very detached from the needs and concerns of his fellow Americans – Democrats and Republicans alike.
All of this is a great example for those of us throughout business to be reminded why we’re entrusted to lead people and organizations. Meetings and discussions don’t matter if you fail to act when the situation calls for directed action. In key situations, there is no time to poll or debate various theories. Sometimes you have to forge a path and make decisions based on the best data you have at the time and on your gut.
There is no doubt President Obama has taken an image hit here. But beyond that, by opening up his leadership style – and perhaps where he falls short – to serious questions, Americans today have more doubts than they did 30 days ago. Leaders need to have those they lead believe they’ll be decisive and do what’s right when the crap hits the fan. If not, people feel less confident and less secure.
Use this example in your own career or workplace to your benefit. Learn from these missteps and don’t repeat them.
Let’s hope the President learns from them and starts walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.