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President as COO: In Your Face Execution

 “He’ll sit [in the Oval Office], and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” That sentiment expressed by Harry Truman about his successor Dwight Eisenhower gets to the heart of what President Obama is facing with oil spill in the Gulf.

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 “He’ll sit [in the
Oval Office], and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the
Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

That sentiment expressed by Harry Truman about his
successor Dwight Eisenhower gets to the heart of what President Obama is facing with oil spill in the Gulf.

By no means is the oil spillage the fault of the President
but it has becomes his responsibility, under provisions of the 1990 Clean Water
Act, to mobilize a response. BP has proven repeatedly to be untrustworthy, and
so a coordinated response between government and private enterprise has been less
than successful. The oil is still spewing, oil slicks at sea have not been
vacuumed, and the wetlands and shoreline continue to become polluted.

Now the President must function less as a head of state and
more as a chief operating officer. The plans are in place so now is the time for
the president to push hard for timely execution. Here’s how.

Get in people’s faces.
Urgency is paramount. The president is good on television, now he must be
good with those responsible for getting things done. By nature Obama is cool
and non confrontational; now he should up his game and make it known that if
results are not forthcoming people will be replaced sooner than later. This is
not showmanship; it’s urgent statecraft. Getting BP to commit to a $20 billion
escrow fund for reparations is a good first step.

Tap the network. Find
out who the experts in every function are. Call on them regularly for updates.
It is hard for the president to make personal visits but his personal delegates
can do it for him. The purpose of such visits is not to reprimand but to ensure
that things are being done on time and on schedule. If not, then ask what the
experts need in terms of more resources to do their job.

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Inspect the details.
Execution is not fun; it is hard work. Franklin Roosevelt used wife Eleanor to
be his “legs” on inspection tours. He taught her to go behind the public
relations façade and talk to people responsible for results. As a result,
Eleanor inspected government-sponsored  kitchens and dormitories and visited war production
factories, even climbing into half-built bomber fuselages to see work firsthand.
Detail is critical to execution; missed details lead to failed execution.

Follow up. Flex
the chain of command. If those in charge cannot get the job done for one reason
or another, make it safe for people to escalate their concerns up the management
ladder, even to the president if need be. This crisis is only growing bigger; mitigating
its effects on our society and our environment will require not only out of the
box thinking but out of the box actions, like going outside traditional
channels.

Now the President must function less as a head of state and
more as a chief operating officer. Because the problem has escalated so
dramatically and BP has been so unresponsive, the President has had to play a
hands-on role in running the government response to remedy the effects of an
ecological, economic and humanitarian disaster.

Granted presidential response to such disasters should be a
rarity. Our government has the resources and materiel to handle future natural
and man-made disasters. What can be learned from this crisis is that in
extraordinary circumstances executive leadership requires full participation in
execution. 

John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s new book is 
Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up
(Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com