March 14, 2011
Barack Obama: A Management AppraisalBy Frank Burke
In addition to examining the roots of Barack Obama's political philosophy, an evaluation of his management style, such as might be undertaken by an independent business consultant, is likewise instructive.
The comparison is apt in that the United States government can be viewed from a business perspective as a service provider. In attempting to analyze problems that exist and evolve the correct remedies, consultants typically begin by observing the way in which management -- especially top management -- leads and interacts with the organization. This would begin with an examination of five key areas.
In classic management theory, Barack Obama would have to be described as an abdicative manager.
The abdicative manager evidences a tendency to flee from responsibility and is frequently encountered in situations where he or she never wanted the job in the first place (for instance, a son or daughter who inherits a company or the individual who discovers that they are incapable of adequate performance). Abdication can be exhibited in a variety of ways, ranging from physically removing oneself through travel (the confusion of movement with action), to obsessing about personal interests or a limited range of controllable subjects.
Obama's frequent vacations and absences, especially in times of crisis, coupled with his unwillingness to personally invest himself in key initiatives, are demonstrative of this style. An excellent example occurred after passage of the healthcare initiative. Having ceded authority in what would later be described as his key achievement to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, he watched as they forced the bill through under a manufactured emergency that precluded lawmakers from having time to read it. He then went on a four-day vacation before signing it.
Team Building and Leadership
If a large organization is to function effectively, it is essential that the management team be composed of individuals who are experienced, capable, and able to function together smoothly in pursuit of stated objectives. To build the team, the top executive names a primary staff or inner circle to select other team members. The confident executive will not hesitate to recruit individuals whose ideas may deviate from his own, as long as they are competent and willing to work with other team members. Having access to multiple, even conflicting, points of view is essential to obtaining a realistic vision of events.
The Obama administration has been singularly ineffective in developing a workable team. The President's inner circle has, for the most part, consisted of Chicago machine politicians. The appointment of numerous Czars, whose functions are neither well-articulated nor understood, has led to confusion on all levels and among the public. The selection mechanism is badly dysfunctional, as illustrated by the choice of self-proclaimed Communist Van Jones as Green Jobs Czar; under-age sex advocate Kevin Jennings as School Safety Czar; and multiple other controversial appointments. Cabinet appointees include Energy Secretary Steven Chu, (like Obama, an advocate of high gas prices); Attorney General Eric Holder, whose advocacy of racial preferences has resulted in serious dissension within the Justice Department; Janet Napolitano, a career politician with no training or experience in security as Secretary of Homeland Security; and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Conflicts between Mrs. Clinton's State Department and the administration, arising over a variety of foreign policy questions, have been painfully obvious.
At a time when the economy is in recession, and unemployment stands at historic highs, it is significant that less than seven percent of Obama's appointees have any private sector experience. The number of administrative officials in high places who have left after two years or less is further evidence of the leadership vacuum.
A critical element of executive responsibility, strategic planning sets the mid- to long-term goals of the organization that form the rationale for shorter term and day-to-day activities. In any large business, strategic planning would involve allocation of existing resources, planning the corporate infrastructure, developing timely products and services to assure customer retention and expansion, targeting new opportunities, and phasing out systems no longer efficient or profitable.
Other than placating the far left -- a small and shrinking segment of his "customer" base -- it is difficult to discover any strategic direction in Obama's thinking. Even his so-called singular achievement, ObamaCare, was poorly cobbled together without much direction. On questions including foreign policy, to the war in Afghanistan, trials for terrorists, closing the Guantanamo facility, etc., his actions have been tentative and unpredictable. Energy and environmental policies have clearly damaged not only employment opportunities but the nation's infrastructure in terms of energy independence. Just as he permitted his party to proceed through 2010 without articulating a budget, his continued reluctance to advance any policy with regard to entitlements, leaves the administration - and the country - without a strategy and without a plan.
The "3:00 a.m. Phone Call" TV commercial, produced by the Clinton campaign, was indeed prescient. That phone has rung numerous times, and it has gone unanswered. The failure to provide even moral encouragement to the demonstrators in Iran, coupled with the more recent waffling on the situations in Egypt and Libya, bespeak a president unsure of his policies and unable to react to events in a timely manner. As the drug wars in Mexico have escalated to critical mass, efforts to strengthen the border have languished. Reactions to real and attempted terrorist attacks on America soil have been met with response that is both tepid and uncertain.
Most chief executives spend time with stockholders, analysts, credit sources, and others discussing the financial status of the organization. Where there are problems, the CEO is expected to present a rational turnaround plan detailing the steps to be taken to ensure financial survival.
At a time when the national debt threatens to destabilize the entire economy, Obama's only suggestion has been to engage in further spending. The lack of a cohesive financial policy has resulted in a global loss of faith in the U.S. dollar, possible economic collapse, and a threat of future inflation. In refusing to consider the recommendations of the Budget Task Force he appointed, it is clear that his grasp of finance and economics is less than rudimentary.
Lacking both the relevant education and experience, were he applying for an executive position in any company, he would in all likelihood be quickly rejected. His refusal to divulge school records and grades would also work against him. If the business to which he applied was involved in any form of sensitive or defense work, his past associations with radicals would result in the denial of any security clearance.
From a business standpoint, his lack of performance and organizational skills would demand that any ethical consultant approach the Board of Directors with a very strong recommendation that Mr. Obama be fired. Perhaps in 2012, he will be.
On the positive side, it must be noted that, were Mr. Obama an effective executive, his agenda might well be much further advanced.