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.


Leadership Coach