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The Obama Jobs Speech: Real Life Leadership Lessons.

Real life leadership lesson – be transparent, congruent and authentic to both yourself and to those you lead!

To be clear – I am wearing my organization development practitioner hat here. This is a bi-partisan analysis of a real life event to highlight what I believe are imperative traits of successful leadership -transparency, congruence, and authenticity!

After watching Obama’s job’s speech last week (it was kind of difficult not to after the amusing scheduling conflicts that consumed the media leading up to the speech) – and a thought struck me – leadership isn’t easy! Don’t get me wrong, as an organization development practitioner, leadership development and coaching is part of my work, and an area that can often be difficult for my clients. However, the very public scrutiny of how high profile figures, such as Obama, handle leadership difficulties seems to be more in public view and debate than ever before. The public debate seems to be is Obama a “wimp” or isn’t he, though to me that’s not the real issue, the real issue is focused around perceived leadership traits.

People now see, hear, act, and react to information faster than ever before. In this digital age of instant information timing, transparency, congruence, and authenticity are more important than ever if leaders expect the support of their followers (or constituents).

As Kathleen Parker mentioned in the Sunday Washington Post regarding Obama’s jobs speech, “Obama tried to unite the nation with his purple rhetoric, but he missed his window when it came time to act. The jobs speech he gave Thursday night was 2 1 / 2 years late, and the health-care reform bill he pushed through against a tide of opposition was a calamity of bad timing.” I saw the timing and tone of the speech to be long overdue and the authenticity of some of the content to be based more on a sense of urgency than on actions and ideas that can really benefit those he leads. Politics aside, from an OD perspective, I couldn’t help but think – yes, his timing was way off – but I think there is more than the issue of timing!

If Obama had been authentic to himself and his followers, and not caught up in political mumbo jumbo (yes I know he is a politician), given the tension and the divide of his followers (We the People) this issue would have been a topic addressed long ago in a timely and transparent manner. Obama’s transparency shined through, but it was a transparency of frustration with the system to which he must operate in as a leader, and less a transparency of genuine concern – and the interesting thing is based on what I’ve seen from him I do in fact think as a leader he has concern for his followers. All leaders have to operate in political systems, not just politicians. Though sometimes difficult to maintain a balance between personal and systemic authenticity and transparency, maintaining that balance is a vital skill to successful leadership.

The article went on to say “Instead of commanding, Obama seemed bossy. Rather than inspiring, he came across as hectoring. This is partly because Obama was trying to be something he’s not. He is not a pot-banging politician but reflective and cautious. Rather than quell the emotional disarray born of fear and resentment, he pounded the drum of class warfare. He shouldn’t expect to see white flags in response.” I agree. Keeping my OD hat on, he was incongruent! That is, what he was saying was not in sync with his feelings and thinking, he came across as not being his authentic self and it showed! To truly inspire people they lead, leaders must be authentic and congruent, if they fail to do so their people will notice and they may not only lose respect but also lose their following – and in today’s digital age they may lose it faster than ever before.

“We believe in our people and we believe in trying to inspire them. To me that’s the start of leadership” – Joe Paterno, Penn State Football Coach

About Scott Span, MSOD: is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm. He helps clients be responsive, focused and effective to facilitate sustainable growth.

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