Debating Leadership

Like a lot of other people, I watched the presidential debate last week and I’m very much looking forward to the remaining few.  As you know we don’t do politics here but I think it’s safe to say that President Obama probably didn’t do very well in making his case.  The primary critique seems to have been that he didn’t aggressively push out his point of view and he didn’t state factual errors forcefully enough when his opponent made them.  Some on the left complain that this has been his problem for the last few years – all of the accomplishments for which the administration takes pride haven’t been promoted well enough, or at least loudly enough to drown out the criticism.  I, of course, took away a couple of business points which I’d like to share.

First, history shows that most incumbent presidents lose the first debate.  I suspect it has something to do with the office.  I don’t recall hearing of many meetings with any President in which people tell him he’s wrong and argue against what he wants to do.  After a few years of no one getting in your face, it must be a shock when someone does.

I’ve seen that in business too.  Some top folks do encourage honest, open debate from their staff but I’ve been around many who don’t.  “My way or the highway” seems to be the order of the day.  Real leaders like debate. What I think is ideal is a sort of benevolent monarchy in which the head person will make the call but will do so only after fact-finding and honest debate with an open mind .

Second, it’s nice to do anonymous good acts.  However, when your ability to stay in business depends on the good will of your customers (which is what an election is about), you need to make sure that everything you do is publicized loudly and amplified by those for whom the good work was done.  Letting people know what you’ve accomplished isn’t bragging – it’s a critical part of staying in business or employed.  If you’re in charge of a department, you need to let the higher-ups know of your group’s good work.  If you run a business, your customers should know how you’re helping them as well as others.  If you have a job, letting the boss know you’re helping the team is important even if it’s obvious.  Of course there’s an obnoxious way to do so as well as an acceptable way but that’s another post.

Did you watch?  Does this make sense?

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