Obama, the Natural
Drucker spent much time talking about “naturals”—those gifted people who are viewed as “born” managers. Naturals set the right priorities, spark others to perform, and know how to make the “life and death” decisions (who to hire, fire, and promote).
Naturals do not micro-manage people to death. They understand intuitively that autocratic, bully-like leaders are not effective and are part of yesterday.
Naturals know a lot of things that others do not. They understand that intimidation and scare tactics have no place in an organization. That kind of toxic behavior is stifling and hurts the morale of the unit. It also shuts down creativity. After all, who wants to take a risk by presenting a new idea when they are likely to be slapped down?
Naturals are confident. That’s no small feat. GE’s former chairman Jack Welch once said that finding a truly confident individual is rare indeed.
Naturals trust their own judgment and have “edge”—they know how to make the tough decisions. They say yes or no and eschew the maybes.
By most anyone’s judgment, Barack Obama closely adheres to Drucker’s definition of a natural. He would have to be to defeat all comers in a grueling, two-year campaign at the young age of 47. Not that he will be the youngest president—that honor goes to Teddy Roosevelt who was only 42 when he was sworn in after the assassination of McKinley in 1901. Next comes John F. Kennedy (43) and Bill Clinton (46). On January 20th, Obama will be sworn in as our fifth youngest president, knocking Grover Cleveland out of the top five (#4 is Ulysses S. Grant, who, by the way, wrote the best presidential autobiography in history).
Obama ran an incredibly disciplined campaign, as was discussed in the last posting. What I left out was some of the other qualities that made him one of those once-every-other-generation type candidates. His incredible ability to remain cool under fire. No matter what was thrown at him he remained incredibly unflappable. That was in marked contrast to McCain’s lurching behavior in the final days of the campaign.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Barack, the natural, is his lack of any substantial unforced errors throughout the campaign. Pundits called it the most disciplined campaign they had seen in decades. In all those many months and dozens of debates he did not make any major gaffes (the comment about Pennsylvanians sticking to their guns and religion does not rise to the level of a significant “operating unforced error”).
As important is the lack of unforced errors on the part of Obama staffers. Well, there was one Obama staffer who called Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” during the primaries, but she was summarily dismissed and the incident was quickly forgotten.
What does all of this tell us about how Obama will lead? He will be incredibly well disciplined, will lead by inspiring rather than intimidating people, and run a very tight ship. With his second major hiring decision (Joseph Biden was first)—Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, Obama is also showing us his pragmatic self as well. Emanuel, a seasoned politico, worked as a top level aide in Bill Clinton’s administration, and is well versed in the ways of Washington (from Congress to the White House). And he was selected for the right reason: Obama said “no one is better at getting things done as Rahm Emanuel.” Once again, we have the President-elect focused like a laser on performance, accomplishment, and achievement. And that is vintage Drucker:
“Management, in every decision and action, must put…performance first,” declared Drucker.
So far Obama has followed the Drucker script quite closely. Come back in future days and weeks to see if Obama continues to stick to the Drucker playbook.