Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


The business of changing a country – Reflection 1

Much has been made of Obama’s election campaign – on the public rhetoric of change. Certainly one cannot argue its effectiveness – regardless of your political persuasions – this man has become the ‘leader of the free world’.

I am currently reading “The Audacity of Hope”, author Barack Obama.  It was a gift from a friend – we often talk politics and she had read it. I was skeptical – figured it would be a thinly veiled marketing pitch and, perhaps it is, but it is actually quite … good. 

It is interesting to know learn what he professes, in his own (or authorized) words and to consider whether he is walking his talk.  A couple of quotes to give you an idea:

  • “… what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” (p22)
  • ” When we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet challenges we face as a country.  It keeps us locked into either / or thinking.” (p40)
  • “What are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common?  That’s not how we usually frame the issue, of course, our political culture fixates on where our values clash.” (p52)
  • “In every society (and in every individual), these twin strands – the individualistic and the communal, autonomy and solidarity – are in tension ….”

These are not the typical manifesto rallies – these are more complex arguments.  The challenges of getting enough of the voting public to understand these concepts to give him room to make complex change happen in an adversarial political arena is probably why most have never taken this approach. But it may be the only right way. 

This is not to say that his politics are ‘right’. It is to say that the notions of a higher bar of political debate, developing resolutions for apparently contradictory policies, focusing on the values that bring a group together while recognizing the tensions that pull them apart … these are the real challenges of leadership. 

It has become clear that no political leader is perfect (certainly Opposition parties never lets the public forget it) and that the current political environment focuses on those imperfections while real issues are undermined in the interest of getting elected in the next term.

Certainly a new order of leadership is required.  After all, to quote a more widely recognized brilliant mind:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

The honeymoon is over for President Obama. Although it does not appear that he has taken his foot off the gas from the moment his win was announced (something I do admire), the glare of the media and the frowns of the hawks must be wearing thin. Now begins the real tests of a “president” – action under the most intense pressure.  This is a job I would not want – it’s grueling nature will run down the soul of any mere mortal, as lesser men have discovered some earlier some later.

His platform has been clear from very early on – some could argue from before this book.  He has sought the counsel and engaged of both experts and partisans. The fact that he has not wavered much from his platform should not be surprising – the planks are macro in nature and he has also stated that his bi-partisan interest lies in how one gets there. 

Is he an active and engaging sponsor – certainly publically this is an easy feat when compared to his predecessor but is it enough?  Can he maintain enough Democratic support? Can he penetrate the political requirements of partisanship to  get traction for his BHAGs?  This is not for the faint of heart – at some point one hopes that the players will take a step back and consider that some are all or nothing propositions.  The healthcare initiative faces extraordinary challenges from reaching a consensus (or close enough) appreciation for the definition of the current situation to understanding the agendas of the stakeholders (from the different segments of the population, to the different states, different government levels and agencies to healthcare providers).  This cacophony alone would torpedo many an effort. 

We have a unique opportunity in history – a President who has placed a value in transparency, in engagement (despite its risks and challenges) and front row seats.  It promises to be an interesting four years.


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