Leading Based Upon Principles, Not Party

I feel somewhat remiss that my blogs on leadership often deal with US examples (Obama), but I must confess that of late I am not impressed with leadership in Canadian politics. I did recently hear Michael Ignatieff speak, and admit that while I was initially against him, he seemed informed and sincere in his speech, and even showed a bit of (dare I say!) passion. So we’ll see what actually happens.
But what we have just witnessed in the US should be examined carefully because it represents the epitome of leadership behaviour. First, Barak Obama became convinced that reforming health care was an absolute ‘must’ in order to position America competitively for the next century. Having heard arguments from the best and brightest on the issue, he decided it had to be done, even if it risked forfeiting his second term if efforts failed. When, during the eleventh hour, senior Democrats advised he pull back, and table a diluted, mini-version of the bill in order to reduce risk to his Presidency, only he and Nancy Pelosi insisted that they continue to push forward with the full bill. Nutshell version: do the right thing for the country regardless of party politics or personal risk.
Second, Obama had already engaged in critical strategic programs ‘under the radar’ and in parallel with the highly controversial and media covered health care issue. Witness the US/Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty, the FLOTUS national initiative on reducing obesity, the quiet overhaul on the national education system, channelling of stimulus funding to create jobs in the renewable energy fields, the desperately needed financial reform legislation, and today, the announcement to allow off-shore drilling for oil.
Effective leaders focus intensely on the most critical issues, but also keep multiple plates spinning at the same time. Examining each program, we will also find that they are all strategically aligned to achieve an overriding objective for the country.
For Obama, that objective means protecting and positioning America to lead in this century, which means facing the serious obstacles it has created for itself. Every program needs to be aligned to serve that objective. So reducing health care costs (notice that the Obesity program systematically attacks the problem from the source, too) will lower indebtedness, and allow more competitive economic growth globally. Revamping education will ensure their workforce is capable of competing in the burgeoning hyper-speed Internet economy. Financial reforms will ensure the greedy few cannot jeopardize the majority and crash the global system. And allowing short-term offshore drilling will alleviate the stranglehold currently enjoyed by foreign oil producers, while allowing research into renewable energy to gain a foothold and eventually deliver American energy independence.
Will all or any of this work? Who knows? But the important leadership lesson is two-fold: to have the courage to put the most important objectives above personal and party agendas, and to carefully align all efforts to yield synergistic results. Should time and fate defeat eventually the initiative, Obama can rest easy that he led the right way.

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