In my book, Leadership the Barack Obama Way (McGraw-Hill, January 2010), we take a look at many outstanding leadership practices that helped fuel Obama’s meteoric rise to the U.S. presidency. Have those notable leadership practices translated effectively to Obama’s work thus far as U.S. president? With his poll numbers dipping, many people have their doubts. Pundits stand all too ready to declare that President Barack Obama is in the midst of a crisis of public confidence in his ability to deliver on his many campaign promises. Obama has achieved many noteworthy successes, as I note elsewhere. But in light of public trepidations about the U.S. economy and the future, and the by-product of these trepidations—waning confidence in the results of Obama’s presidency and leaderhip—Obama needs to use his State of the Union Address skillfully. Among the tasks: Obama should set a positive tone, help reinforce flagging confidence in his commitment to bringing "change", and most of all, assure Americans he understands their concerns about the economy, expressing a deep commitment to helping to bring more jobs and turn the economy around.
Here are some useful measures by which to judge the success, or lack thereof, of Obama’s State of the Union address:
1. Does he focus on the core topics about which most people are concerned? Remember, "It’s the economy, stupid." He needs to get to the key issues quickly, and avoid spreading his words so broadly that they come across as "thin" on the issues of greatest importance to viewers.
2. Does he tackle head-on the issue of healthcare, in light of the fact that many Americans are nervous about proposed healthcare reforms and remain unconvinced that Obama’s plan is the right plan? Does Obama make it clear that he heard the voices of the voters in Massachusetts and will be responsive?
3. Does Obama address and alleviate concerns that he is on a spending frenzy with little fiscal discipline?
4. Does Obama express deep commitment to bi-partisanship. Many observers charge he has failed nearly entirely in creating bipartisan support for major legislation and reforms.
5. In tone and delivery, does he inspire others to trust his leadership?
6. Does Obama take responsibility for shortcomings? Certainly, Obama inherited great challenges, but he must take responsibility for what has not occurred in his first year, in light of the promises he made. He should accept responsibility while also trying to shed light on his first-year successes.
7. Importantly, does Obama manage expectations? Does he set forth for the American people, in ways they can accept, a vision of what will be attainable in the short-term, and a clear portrait of the longer-term goals. This is very important.
I look forward to commenting later on the success or lack thereof, of Obama’s State of the Union Address 2010.