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Business could learn from Obama style, experts say
December 2, 2008 / 6:35 AM / 9 years ago

Business could learn from Obama style, experts say

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If Barack Obama were a corporate chief executive, the incoming U.S. president already would be winning high marks for his management style, experts say.

President-elect Barack Obama announces that U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will be his choice for U.S. Secretary of State during a news conference in Chicago December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

The president-elect’s steady hand and calm demeanor that have earned him the moniker “No Drama Obama” are traits business leaders could well learn from, according to management experts.

”What he’s doing is masterful,“ said Paul Reagan, a management consultant and senior lecturer at Wayne State University in Detroit. ”His value system is clear, and he spends a tremendous amount of time reinforcing that he does what he says he will do.

“His credibility right now is so high most people already see him as the corporate head,” Reagan said.

There’s one particular aspect of Obama’s style that business leaders likely do not share -- an acute awareness of his own strengths and weakness, said Paul Copcutt, a personal brand strategist based in Dundas, Ontario.

That awareness is evident in his cabinet selections, in which Obama has chosen veterans to provide the expertise or experience he lacks, he said.

“In corporate, we’re brought up to look at our weaknesses and how can you improve those and what can you work on,” Copcutt said. “Really good leaders should be focusing on what they’re good at and either delegating or finding other ways to achieve what they’re not good at.”

From Hillary Clinton, a former campaign rival, to Robert Gates, a holdover from the administration of Republican President George W. Bush, Obama’s cabinet choices show an effort to build a coalition with voices that may disagree with his own, Reagan said.

Chief executives, on the other hand, often build a “go-to team” of supportive advisors who “don’t bring in all of the voices that they really need to lead all of the organization,” he said.

‘JURY IS STILL OUT’

Obama’s demonstration of skill is still in its early days, however. All he has done so far is pick some key cabinet members and urge Congress to act swiftly on an economic stimulus plan when it takes office in early January.

“The jury is still out,” said Nancy Koehn, a business historian and professor at Harvard Business School.

The tougher tests come once Obama moves into the White House on January 20.

On the downside, a management style that appeals to so many constituencies, such as Obama‘s, poses the risk of broad disappointment, Reagan said.

“He may have oversold change,” he said. “If there is a vulnerability, it will be in a lack of clarity or, because it was so general, an inability to make good on what everyone interpreted was something for them.”

Chief executives could borrow a page from Obama’s responses to two hurdles in his path to the U.S. presidency -- his loss in the New Hampshire primary and the maelstrom over his controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright, said Koehn.

In each case, Obama responded with an “emotional competence” that leaders could use, especially in today’s troubled financial climate, to cope with currents such as fear of job losses or anxiety over poor performance at their organizations, she said.

“Business leaders need to be very conscious of those aspects to their people and their organization that are more than just, ‘What are our tangible resources?’ ‘What’s our head count?’ ‘What’s our market?’ ‘What’s our customer?'” she said.

CEO coach Deb Dib can tick off a list of traits she sees in Obama -- caring, confident, consistent, commanding, calm and more -- traits she tries to teach business executives.

“If you look at any really effective CEO, they almost all share in one way or another almost every one of those attributes,” said Dib from her office in Medford, New York.

“It transcends politics. You really have to look at him and say, ‘Wow, I can learn something from this.”

Edited by Philip Barbara

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