Leadership does not just begin with vision. It begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great
Again, I feel like a Martian. I’m not sure whether to feel comforted by that or not.
When Bush invaded Iraq, I was aghast twice. Once that he’d do it in response to 9-11 and then that so many people – from media to everyday citizens – would so blithely cheer him on.
A year ago, when Obama was sworn in, I was, like so many Americans, so relieved that Bush was gone and happy to have a new president who seemed so intelligent, thoughtful, and carefully optimistic. The one big concern I expressed at the time was that Obama had no real experience. A year ago, I felt like a part of the majority. It was a little heady.
After peaking in the summer, Obama’s approval ratings have steadily dropped. They are now below 50%. And this is the part that I don’t get.
Obama’s one big weakness last year was a lack of experience. He now has it. And he’s done pretty well. I’ve got criticisms of the man, but he’s largely the cautiously progressive, boldly moderate candidate we elected. He’s kept his calm. He’s put money into infrastructure and education, showing his commitment to making long-term improvements in this country. And he’s shown genuine respect for other countries and won back our standing in the world community. He’s changed tactics, strategy, and even specifics about his goal on health care but has yet to sacrifice direction (moving towards more coverage for more Americans).
I’m still hopeful about this man who writes about the audacity of hope, but now I feel a little less uneasy about him. In my book, he’s proven that he can translate his potential into results. He has experience and the experience is not that bad, in spite of the bad economy and wars he’s inherited.
Bush had a great imagination. I’ll give him that. He wanted to transform a dictatorship in the Middle East into a beacon of democracy within a couple of years. Given such a thing has never happened in the history of humanity, such a goal showed great imagination. But he showed little acceptance of the world as it is.
By contrast, Obama has yet to show much imagination but he has seemed to show a real acceptance of the world as it is. He seems very realistic.
And to me, this explains why Obama’s approval ratings have steadily slipped. He hasn’t promised that anything will be easy. He has not claimed that in reality we’re well positioned. There is nothing exciting about confronting a reality that is full of issues as difficult as climate change, two wars (well, occupations really), the worst recession in a century, and health care costs that are steadily eroding salaries and competitiveness.
Yet the potential that comes from honestly addressing reality as it is, well that’s a potential for great achievement.
For me, Obama is addressing the real issues with real solutions. There is nothing easy, exciting, or quick about this. Drucker once said something to the effect of, “even the grandest strategies eventually devolve into real work.” And yet it is work that, finally, works.
I actually feel better about Obama now than I did a year ago. I guess this puts me back into the minority. But you know, after 8 years of watching Bush, I get some comfort from that.