Leadership

Is President Obama too smart for his own good?

Some leaders seem to succeed entirely through the power of charisma. Others, perhaps even more knowledgable, fail to get the job done. John M McKee provides his take on why these simple truths may cause President Obama to fail.
 Success Rule 1: It's smart for all leaders, at any level, to be highly visible:
  • When times are tough, we want to know that our leaders are engaged. We want them working on a solution. Showing up sends the message that the boss is involved in finding a solution.
  • The same holds true when things are going well. In those times the boss can reinforce his overall value by coming by and checking in. If (s)he hears anything that needs attention, he can take notes.  Afterward, without too much effort, they can show that they care.

Either way, the message communicated is: "I'm the right boss for the organization."

But it doesn't seem to be working for President Obama. So is my rule wrong?

I don' think so, but let's consider what's taken place over the past two years:

  • Since first arriving on the political scene, he's never been shy about meeting with the public; and generally the press is with him all the time. They record him, showing the pubic that he's engaged and cares.
  • And yet, despite his "keeping visible" approach, we have seen his popularity numbers drop. Additionally, pundits say his Democratic Party is about to get hammered in the November mid-term elections. It seems likely that the Republicans will take over Congress. If so, he may become a lame-duck president.
Was President Obama wrong to be so visible? Or, are his failing approval ratings simply due to this crappy economy? Arguably, it's bad enough that no president could hold on to his prior popularity. Perhaps, but I think there's also something else at play: he may simply be "too smart" for his own good.

Without a doubt, our President talks a lot; he seems to be on TV all the time. And, it does appear that he truly listens to people, his own advisers, and the general public.

Success Rule 2: Emotion always wins over facts:
  • We admire brainiacs. We want our daughter to marry one.
  • We follow the caring leaders who get us to "buy in" to their plans.

President Obama often comes across as too intellectual. He's like that college prof who thought if he helped us to "understand the importance" of Greek history we'd be more engaged and do better. (We didn't.) He's also a little long-winded, so even if we want to get engaged, we can't, because he loses our attention.

If a leader wants people to follow him or do what he's asking, he's got to get our attention and hold it. Most folks want to believe in their leader, we want to see that he or she "gets it" from OUR perspective so we can help the company succeed.

In corporate life, you can use power to get things done for a while, but ultimately it's the leader who has the strength of their followers who succeeds for the longest time.

But in politics you can't direct the voters to keep you around. You've got to win both their hearts and their minds. Or face the consequences.

Here's to our future.

John

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

65 comments
DBOConnor
DBOConnor

ANY president trying to revive this economy in 4 years would definitely fail. I dare anyone who has got a grocery list saying what will work and won't work to answer my question... if your idea is so fool proof why aren't you the President? There is no ONE way to respond to this blog without stirring up some disturbing comments from people who are either pro Republican or pro Democrats. I wish we had a 3rd party, I wish we had a flat tax, I wish the Income tax we all file every year was done away with. We can't have any of that, and trying to argue over Obama's popularity or what he should do or can't do is a waste of time. With all jobs we need to prioritise, and we all fall victim to arguing and wasting time on the petty stuff and ignoring the bigger stuff that matters. That said and done, I leave it to the folks who do their Obama praising and bashing. The more important issues to me is finding a way where we don't have to file income taxes and making a flat tax work for people of all income levels. This is invevitable, there are always ways for people to cheat or hack the system to affect us all for the worst in the end, and that is just how life is in this world, with politics and the technology/computer world.

Woody Goode
Woody Goode

This is an astonishingly ignorant piece of work. It's generally advisable for people in leadership roles to know something about the subject they are discussing. You clearly don't. 1. Presidents almost always have lower approval ratings 18-24 months after election. This is why the president's party loses seats in the 'midterm' congressional elections. This point would have made an excellent hook for a column. There's always a surge of enthusiasm when a new president (or prime minister) comes in, followed by a drop when people realize that he or she can't walk on water and things won't magically improve. An intelligent management consultant might have discussed "the halo effect" and how new leaders can deal with it. 2. Compared to his predecessors, Obama's ratings haven't dropped that much. He's not the president who suffered the smallest drop, but neither is he the largest-- or even close. This is a fact that is easy to verify (the data is available online). And a number of commentators, in response to this growing meme, have made it. A mildly-rigorous attempt to validate the hypothesis would have uncovered it. 3. There is a tight correlation between a president's approval ratings and the unemployment rate. This isn't rocket science either. People out of work-- or those who have relatives or friends not working-- get p.o.ed with the guy in charge. It's explained in any freshman-level class on American Government-- and a moderately-bright 12-year old could work this out as well. To use a business metaphor, if a new CEO arrives and a bunch of people get laid off, they won't like him-- even if his predecessor caused the business conditions that led to the layoffs. This also would be a great subject for a column-- what should you do when YOU'RE being blamed for things that happened before you arrived? Or, if you want to divorce the column from any partisan response (the economy did tank on Bush's watch, thanks to his policies, but the right-wingers don't like being reminded of it) the column could say "What do you do when you're being blamed for something-- and you don't think it's your fault?" Instead, you've written something that is demonstrably inaccurate-- and also partisan. Clearly you're not too smart for your own good.

hlhowell
hlhowell

There is a definite line between being smart and being arrogant. More importantly one can be both, and be wrong all at the same time. To quote one of my favorite bumper stickers of all time, "How's that hope and change working out for you?" I guess if you are still employed, it's OK. For some 10+ percent of the folks out there, it's not so good.

tdm808
tdm808

He is not too smart. He is completely and utterly inexperienced as a leader. He continually lays blame on the previous leader and part of his team. He unethically gives favor to those who helped him get where he is and blatantly pays off or threatens those who do not initially support his ideas. He continually uses his bully pulpit to lie and doesn?t have the guts to actually stand and debate his ideas with those who disagree. How could anyone expect the Republicans to get on board and follow his ideas when they are not only extremely poor ideas but ideas that have failed many times through our countries history and constantly go against the Constitution? Intelligence and leadership do not go hand in hand. He has gotten where he is on charisma, wealthy supporters and America?s misguided desire to "make history".

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I don't like being lied to. Lie to me once and it will be a VERY long time before I trust you again.

maclovin
maclovin

.....than the average American, which isn't saying much. :faceplam: First, let me say that this topic should NEVER have been posted on TR. But, now I've been sucked into a long post! Let me start by saying that no ONE party is to blame. The "mainstream" media is to blame....like FOX. (And ignorant people) FOX News IS the Republican party (and apparently has terrorist ties, if you look at the list of their largest investors), running great debates such as "Is America Ready for a Black President" only furthering the stereotype. And blowing issues out of proportion like a mosque, just so they can make their white viewers scared of a religion they "read about on Google" or because they "Googled the Qur'an", yet have never spoken to a Muslim. This is only a ploy to try to paint Democrats and minorities in a bad light, and get people to vote (white) Republican. THINK! (Which I know is hard for some) However yes, MSNBC IS the Democratic party, and it is there to further the views of that party, but they seem a bit more rational than FOX?.just a BIT. Also, at least MSNBC doesn't call their news "Fair and Balanced", then lie and perpetually contradict themselves, and then backtrack when they get called out. The reason why people think that Republicans are dumb is because, for example, someone might try to deny and deny again that they're gay, and vote AGAINST gay rights, but then come out after all that, saying they still agree with their initial vote (WTF!). Or, it could be because people might think that a person like Sarah Palin is good for the country. It could also be because McCain switches sides on numerous different things ("Finish the damn fence"). Or, because some lady in AZ thinks that she can get away with ignoring questions. Also, she may not even know how to make an opening statement (see: Peter Griffin's opening statement), which apparently people will allow, because after her not even being able to speak during her debate, she's still kicking the competition in AZ. All I can say is "what a bunch of morons in the state of AZ". By the way, illegal immigration is down lower than it has been in 10-15 years....do the research for yourselves. This lady also says that she won't do any more debates, even though SHE's the one that called for them in the first place. Maybe if she wrote it on her hand?."immigration". What's worse, is that supporters of many candidates DON'T read the facts, and just listen to what they're told...by Google (HINT/CLUE: Google just gives you search results from other, possibly less than reputable, sites...SHOCKING I KNOW!). Some people just choose to believe what they are told by people who may also have major investors with terrorist ties (FOX News), but they wouldn't want you to look too far into that! Please research provable FACTS BEFORE believing what you're told by a candidate, or anyone else for that matter. Bottom Line, too much separation between party supporters. The reason for the separation is simply to disagree with the other side to get voters to think that this candidate is "different", even if it means going AGAINST their own supporters' best interests (National Health Care)! Oh, by the way, the US already HAS Socialism (the separation between the rich and middle class alone is staggering), FYI! (Just in case anyone wanted to bring that up!) Yawn! It's nap time...

AV .
AV .

I think Obama is a fantastic orator. Granted, he inherited an economy on the verge of collapse, but his policies haven't been effective enough to create real job growth in this country. Sure, we got change and regulations, but we still have no jobs. I have to laugh at the stimulous plans to put people to work. I'm sure everyone has seen signs on highways across the country that the roads are being repaved as part of the stimulous. Too bad those jobs only last a couple of days. Thats not job growth. Thats a joke and it just shows that Obama, despite his obvious intelligence, doesn't understand how to create real job growth in this country. The rules you are mentioning mean nothing if you can't deliver results. Then you are just a talking head and destined for failure. AV

Marcus A. Noel / ZentreCorp Consulting
Marcus A. Noel / ZentreCorp Consulting

Hmm ... "Too Smart for his own good". Isn't that kind of like "Being a Bit Uppity"? By raising a question like this aren't you judging the American People regarding the level of intelligence & competence they should expect of and accept in a world leader of their choosing and how much of it that person should exercise at any given time? Perhaps, you could propose some new guidelines. For Instance ... When dealing with: Leader(s) of a prosperous developed country ... Exercise Intelligence Level A Leader(s) of a poor developed country ... Exercise Intelligence Level B Leader(s) of a poor undeveloped country ... Exercise Intelligence Level C Now, comes the Kicker ... The American Public & American Media ... Exercise ?????

marcedhk
marcedhk

Re rule 1 - it's smart to be visible, but it's not enough. If your approach isn't working, every time people see you they're reminded of that, and then they start wanting to see somebody else. Re rule 2 - Emotion will INITIALLY win over facts, but after a while the facts will catch up. Then people feel another emotion - disillusionment, and then other emotions as well - none of which are helpful when the next election comes around.

Marc Thibault
Marc Thibault

Gee. Could it possibly be that he's too Left for his own good and that he's lost the confidence of the American people?

jkameleon
jkameleon

Obama seems far too smart for the good of the American people. Or should I say Obushma?

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

You're blending and mixing different topics, in a losing proposition. What may work in business might not be the best method in politics. The only conclusion that should be taken from the current political atmosphere is that the US population has become more "polarized" than at any time I can remember since Viet Nam. In many cases, neither "side" wants to make any concessions in order to make progress. Add to the mix the media jumping on the latest sound byte, and reporting rather minor issues as something that is going to revolutionize the world, and the polarization only worsens. This blog post belongs on those types of "news" sites. Leadership coach you say?

maclovin
maclovin

no major party is better than any other. They're all the same. Some don't lie, but just have difficulty putting policy through because the other side blocks them....it's odd really.

tdm808
tdm808

If one disagrees with a liberal they are too stupid to get it. State that you are much smarter. Assume everyone that may have a different opinion doesn't "THINK", or they would agree with you. Demonize FOX because you can't handle hearing both sides of any argument because the liberal side constantly loses to basic common sense. You automatically assume that if anybody disagrees with the Health Care Bill for the obvious reason that it is a complete disaster to the future of the country they have ulterior motives. If you actually believe socialism is the separation of the rich and the middle class in the US you have no concept of socialism or its impact to society. Do your own research with an open mind not clouded by dislike of those with whom you disagree.

pmtk724
pmtk724

What an impressive rant, and maybe a couple of points worth pondering, but MSNBC more rational than FOX (speaking of the actual news programming and not the opinion programming). Surely you can't be serious :) Have you not seen the reports of increased violence in AZ? Did you know Phoenix is now boasts more kidnappings than Mexico City? Drig cartels control large portions of Mexico near the border and kill and rape at will to extort money from those who work in the US? Ranchers are being attacked on their own property. Yeah, that goofy governor...what is she thinking. Please go take a nap...good idea.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In the past 30 years, no politician who addressed the American people as if they were intelligent has been successfully elected to national office.

QAonCall
QAonCall

Rule #1. Integrity. Have it, display it, exemplify it. Demand it from those around you. Rule #2. Know your stuff. Know your job, Know your people. Know their needs, their concerns their fears their strengths etc. Rule #3. Be visible. Judge for yourself why the President has 'lost the people'. Charismatic leaders seldom keep their followers for long, as there is always another charismatic leader that will come along. A true leaders stands on these principles, and he grows his following in this manner.

IC-IT
IC-IT

It is a simple History lesson; United we stand, Divided we fall. One party has determined that they would rather see the nation fall.

willda
willda

I find that the news media today shows little respect to our presidents with one exception... President Obama. Why is it that, presidents, Clinton & Bush were almost never referred to as President Bush or President Clinton but, as Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton. President Obama seems to be always referred to as President Obama. Seriously, as a 51 yr male who grew up being taught to respect the office if not the man, why have we gone back on our morals & teachings? Is there something about the man that makes him a special case? P.S. I didn't mean to post this as a reply to jkameleon. Sorry.

puppybreath
puppybreath

That has to be a typo. There is no such thing as a political party that doesn't lie.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

as opposed to playing to win. It doesn't matter to either major party if it doesn't accomplish anything, as long as it can keep the opposition from doing so.

maclovin
maclovin

Just like all the beheadings she mentioned....right? She is sponsoring racial profiling, period. I supposed you also think this building in NY is an actual MOSQUE, hmm? I suppose you also think that it is actually being built ON ground zero? I supposed it's okay to violate the rights of citizens, based on their religion? Wasn't that what this country was founded upon? Well, I guess I don't know any more...maybe Glenn Beck has the best answer to suit your purposes. Please.

g.barnett22
g.barnett22

Exactly... It should be noted how much has been accomplished despite party opposition.

maclovin
maclovin

Okay, just one....right.

puppybreath
puppybreath

You can blame Democrats for all the spending they're doing but I wouldn't go so far as to say they'd rather see the nation fall.

samericdavis
samericdavis

They are afraid of being pointed out. Mr. Obama might be viewed as not giving Obama his due as president because he's black.

jamezw
jamezw

So, you remember that the media referred to President Clinton as Mr. Clinton quite frequently even though he was in office 10-18 years ago? I find your notion disingenuous at best. I have heard media outlets refer to President Obama as Mr. Obama. But, I certainly have not been keeping count, and I definitely will not know the frequency 10 years from now.

puppybreath
puppybreath

Please provide a detailed list of how much has been accomplished. Be sure to include the costs for these "accomplishments". Thanks!

santeewelding
santeewelding

Study first and emulate great orators of the past and present before you go at each other with your secondary attempts.

puppybreath
puppybreath

It's obvious that you speak from experience.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The political left is using D & R as Drive and Reverse. The political right is using D & R as Dumb and Righteous. Neither is correct.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

discusses cloture calls in the Senate through the 2007-2008 session. It is dated January 27, 2010—the week after Brown was elected. As for the bills being flawed, I don't disagree. I'm not defending Democrats in any manner. I'm simply trying to point out that blaming only one political party for the current situation is avoiding reality.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

All of the cited facts are independently verifiable; the links are a courtesy. All else is opinion. Mine is that we (the American people) have allowed both parties to become fat and arrogant, and the majority of people are only now becoming aware of it. We wouldn't have to "take back our government" if we hadn't given it up in the first place. And I get my news from everywhere. If the facts can be verified by multiple reputable sources, it's news. If there are no facts or the facts are not verifiable, it's probably opinion, and everybody knows opinions aren't worth the facts they're based on. And that's the fact, Jack. ;)

IC-IT
IC-IT

With rationalization like that, do you even entertain a thought of your own. Or should the answer have been; There are none so blind as those that will not see.

puppybreath
puppybreath

Something like: Republicans wanted more infrastructure funding 18 months ago but were turned down cold so more money could go to special interests but now that Obama's policies have failed miserably and he is in jeopardy of losing both houses, he decides that it was a good idea after all? It's like him saying, "OK, I blew a trillion dollars with nothing to show for it, but just give me 50 billion more and I'll do better this time." Just a political stunt and you were gullible to fall for it.

IC-IT
IC-IT

It has recently been in use by the wingers. Kind of more of the same distraction and selective amnesia. I also notice you have no comments on the specific two incidents that came out last night!?

puppybreath
puppybreath

I thought "sheeple" was the term used to describe Obama followers. You know the type: push a hateful agenda against anything Bush related and then praise Obama for doing exactly the same thing that Bush proposed.

IC-IT
IC-IT

While watching the news last night two more instances of their two faced attitude showed up; In the spring of 2009 the Republicans were bitching about the stimulis package not containg enough Infrastructure spending. Flash forward, now that Obama has initiated a 50 Billion Infrastructure package they don't like it. Over the years they have wanted a higher tax exemption for Capital Goods purchased to improve a business. Recently it was upped to 30%. There is a Rep. proposal to up it to 50%. Pres. Obama wants to allow 100%. Republicans don't want to support it. Where is the logic in their recent actions/hyperbole? This doesn't even mention the fact that they either co-wrote, wrote, co-sponsored, sponsored bills that they wanted to push. When the Dems also tryed to support their endeavors the Republicans (even those that did the writing/sponsoring) would not vote for them??!!! Definately a WTF moment. Don't even get me started on how the Sheeples got fooled into believing the Right-wing pundits and pressured Congress into supporting a false war and the fact that those same Sheeple are pushing a hateful agenda against all things Obama related; oh initiated by those same pundits. :-(

puppybreath
puppybreath

but I don't listen to Faux News or any American news channel. You should probably follow your own advice and do a little more research on your own. Rather than relying on liberal sites like Salon, MSNBC, and CNN to validate your opinions, try looking at unbiased reports for the facts.

puppybreath
puppybreath

the situation once Brown was elected but doesn't explain the situation before that. Democrats had the 60+ votes they needed to pass anything they wanted without fear of a filibuster. And with that majority, they still couldn't convince members of their own party to vote for the bill. I guess blaming Republicans is easier than admitting that the bills were flawed in the first place.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The Republicans won the majority in the 1994 election (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0774721.html), and promptly proceeded to make fools of themselves by sending the President a budget they knew he would veto. This, of course, resulted in a government shutdown. Remember who lost that battle? And now Republicans are looking forward to trying it again if they win the majority in 2010? Who are these idiots? http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/09/08/government_shutdown_1995 BTW, Democrats didn't regain a majority in the House until 2006, and only regained a full majority in the Senate in 2008. Talk to me again about Bush and spending going through the roof... Don't believe what you hear on Faux News. Study the actual history.

puppybreath
puppybreath

who controlled Congress when Clinton did so well with the national debt and who controlled Congress when spending went through the roof with Bush and Obama. BTW, how do you "get in the way" when you're effectively shut out of any debate on key issues? I find it funny that liberals want to blame Republicans for everything and call them the "party of no" when they had complete control of both Congress and the Presidency. They didn't need a single vote from a Republican to force their agenda through. And yet when they failed, it was the Republicans who were to blame. Not one mention of any of the Democrats who voted against the bills. If even Democrats knew that the bills were bad, maybe we should change the name for Republicans to "the party of know".

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I thought he was referring to the Republicans in Congress who have gone out of their way to not only do nothing, but to get in the way. I don't have a problem with the former: there are few things more harmless than a politician who is doing nothing. It's the fear-mongering that goes with the latter I find disturbing. And, given that the only time the rate of increase of the national debt slowed in the last 30 years was during the Clinton administration, it's rather disingenuous of Republicans to accuse Democrats of spending the country into penury. http://cedarcomm.com/~stevelm1/USDebt.png edit: added link

willda
willda

Oh, I'm not running off (maybe just not running off at the mouth so to speak). I guess I just need to learn when to get on my soapbox and when not to. Thanks Palmetto, Dan

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm also 51 and I don't remember how the press referred to Mr. / President Bush II, much less Clinton. However, most media outlets have some form of 'style guide' that specifies such options. In theory, the same outlet should consistently use the same form of address regardless of the office holder, although the address used may vary from one outlet to the next. Just because one person snipes at you is no reason to not participate. Let it influence who's responses you read, who you interact with, and who's opinions you come to value; don't let it run you off.

jamezw
jamezw

It is your opinion that today's news media is more respectful to Obama than our last two Presidents. Certain news outlets, such as MSNBC, might perpetuate this perception. But they are just one outlet. I suggest to you to tune into Fox News EXCLUSIVELY and your perception that the media treats Obama with more respect than previous Presidents will dissipate quickly.

willda
willda

snip... I find your notion disingenuous at best....snip Thanks a heap. It was an honest and real question but, I should have known better than to ask it in an open forum. Maybe someday I'll learn to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to my self. (and if you read my post you would notice that I'm 51. 10 to 18 years is not a long time to remember the things my parents taught me I hope to God that I remember them until I buried and gone.) Dan

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