Like Obama, New Leaders Must Take Risks


A lot of the talk about President Barack Obama has been that he took on too much, is overextended and is spreading himself and the administration too thin. Many people thought he was too free and easy with the public checkbook.

New leaders are like first-round draft picks in sports. Everyone is excited and has high hopes. The board of directors, employees and others making their living off the company usually believe the new guy is the answer.

The old management—in this case the Republicans—recognize they have made mistakes, but they usually believe their strategy would work, given enough time and money. They are resistant to change. Yet the new managers initially will try to win them over, and when that doesn't work, they will just ignore them and try to push them out the door.

No one knows whether Obama's gamble will pay off. Yet, every new CEO knows that what Obama did is typical of what any new leader does and that is the following:

  • Vision: New leaders create and sell their vision to their employees, customers, prospects and vendors because they want to let everyone know there is a new sheriff in town with a different view of how things should be run.
  • Set big goals: Obama set a goal to improve graduation rates, increase the number of engineers, open access to health care and finally put the American auto industry back to its longtime leadership position.
  • Take risk: As Obama reminds the Republicans, he wasn't hired as America's CEO to follow the status quo and carry on the last leader's policies. He was elected to make changes, especially major changes.
  • New leaders: New CEOs like to bring in their own people because they want loyalty, those who share the same vision. At the same time, the new leader tries to retain a few of the best people of the last leader for continuity.
  • Spend money: The new leader will use his or her mandate to spend money to execute strategy. The leader may never get another chance because early initiatives might not pan out, board members may have a change of heart on the direction the leader wants to take or the company won't have the money later on.

Obama and his team realize they will never have another chance to control the conversation and execute their plan if they don't leverage all of the good will they have right now. Using the sports analogy, very few first-round draft choices end up being Hall of Famers, so they have to ask for as much money as possible.

As an employee at USA Inc., I pray that my leader has made thought-out choices. Some parts of his plan will exceed expectations, some will fall well below expectations and others will meet expectations. If you are a new leader, project confidence, take risk and stay focused.

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